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President Trump's Vision For His Next Term


Tonight on the South Lawn of the White House, Donald Trump will explain to the country exactly why he thinks he should be president for four more years, and, as it did four years ago, Trump's argument can be summed up in four words - Make America Great Again. Unlike four years ago, Trump is already in the job, and poll numbers suggest he's facing an uphill battle.

To hear more about President Trump's vision for his next term and how other incumbent presidents have argued their case for four more years, we're joined now by NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ailsa.

CHANG: Good to have you. Well, all right, let's just start with that agenda the president is putting forward - make America great again, again. Did I get that right?

ELVING: Yes, that's the new slogan they've been trying out this week. It's a somewhat awkward phrase when you first hear it. Here's Vice President Mike Pence using it last night.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We will make America great again, again.


ELVING: Now, that may be a perfect bumper sticker, but it's not a perfect punchline. It sounds maybe a little too much like, we'll get it right this time. But it does make sense as a campaign theme given the circumstances - where Donald Trump felt his presidency stood at the beginning of this year before the virus, the recession, the racial unrest, and then, of course, where we find ourselves in August.

CHANG: Right. I mean, is that why the campaign veered away from the message the president's team had in mind at the beginning of this year, which was Keep America Great?

ELVING: It certainly makes sense. That had been the new slogan right after the president survived impeachment and when the Trump team thought that the convention would be essentially a triumphal entry into history, something like the scene for the president's State of the Union speech last winter. Here's what he sounded like then.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never ever going back.

ELVING: And we've heard some of that same concept this week from Kimberly Guilfoyle. She is formerly a Fox News personality who is now dating Donald Trump Jr. and also advising the campaign. She gave a speech on the convention's first night.


KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: The best is yet to come.

CHANG: Ron, how much have we seen previous presidents running for reelection actually lay out an explicit, detailed agenda for the second term?

ELVING: As a rule, they have not run on an agenda for a second term. They talk about the future, something greater to come in a second term, but they know the election is a referendum on the first term and the political realities of the reelection year. Now, if those realities are working in the president's favor, he can afford to be aspirational, if not terribly specific in looking ahead. Bill Clinton talked a lot about the future in his 1996 acceptance speech of his renomination, including a phrase that would become part of the discourse for years.


BILL CLINTON: Let us commit ourselves this night to rise up and build the bridge we know we ought to build all the way to the 21st century.

ELVING: And Ronald Reagan in 1984, on his way to winning 49 states, could run a fuzzy, feel-good campaign about how everything was great.


RONALD REAGAN: It's morning again in America. Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history, with interest rates...

ELVING: President Trump, of course, would have liked to have had the circumstances for a Morning in America reelection campaign. But, of course, that's very hard to do in the circumstances, with 180,000 Americans having died of the virus. As for actual agendas in a second term, as it turned out, Ronald Reagan did a lot in his second term. He signed a major immigration reform and a historic tax reform and got the Senate to approve a sweeping nuclear arms control deal with the Soviets. But much of that agenda emerged only after Ronald Reagan was reelected, and that's been typical of other second terms as well.

CHANG: OK. So even though it's rare for an incumbent president to lay out a detailed agenda for the second term, I am struck that during this Republican convention, they never updated even the party platform for 2020. They just stuck with what they had in 2016. How unusual is that?

ELVING: Well, it's highly unusual. I can't think of a precedent for that. And it might suggest a lack of agenda other than the continuation of the last four years and the extension of promises as yet unfulfilled, such as the wall on the Mexican border or ending foreign military involvements or changing the culture in Washington. But we should note that the Trump campaign website does have a lengthy document called an agenda for a second term. It has 10 categories and lots of goals. One goal is to lower the payroll tax that's paid by workers and employers, but another goal is protecting Social Security and Medicare, which are paid for by that payroll tax. So how do these goals work together? That's the sort of question campaign documents rarely address.

CHANG: That is NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
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