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Richard Fulton

The elections are bearing down on us bringing increased spending on TV and a flurry of campaign events big and small. It appears imperative for candidates to show the flag with personal appearances amongst enthusiastic crowds.  Even in the age of Covid.

No one likes big boisterous crowds more than President Trump. He feeds on crowds much more than on other means of communication and engagement. And he draws enthusiastic crowds.

Mind you, I would rather not join those crowds; not just because I’m not a Trump fan, but because in this age of transmittable diseases through contacts in crowds it simply is more prudent to stay away from shouting minions of supporters clumped closely together.

Not only does this not seem to be prudent for all those people packed together and spewing whatever to those around them, it also sends a poor message to those who should be showing more care in favor of their health.

But, if Trump calls them, they will come. Biden does some of this but at least makes a show of always wearing a mask. Campaigning is tricky in the age of Covid-19.  

The appeal that Trump is trying to personify is that of a macho figure able to meet and defeat nasty diseases because of his vigorous health. Presidents do have access to the best medical protections anywhere, so he has a decent chance of sustaining a high level of health during the campaign.

Still, he is not young and is overweight. One assumes his handlers are aware of these and try to pace his campaign activities and make sure he has breaks. A president has a rigorous schedule, however, so Trump must remain prudent in his campaign activities.

It is easy for a president to maintain visibility, harder for the challenger to keep himself actively in the news media. It is ever thus for challengers of incumbent presidents. A president, after all, finds it much easier to make news, and thus get media attention, than the challenger who can only be perceived as a candidate, not an active state decision maker.

That’s why second terms are common in the presidency.

But we are in an era of active (overactive?) media coverage of candidates and their campaigns. That has its advantages, especially for the incumbent who can make “non-political” news much more easily. Thus he captures more media attention than the challenger who is seen mostly in a more aggressive role by the very nature of having to challenge a sitting president already playing an active governmental decision making role.

Thus it is that President Trump can get exposure simply by fulfilling his office.  The challenger must work harder to penetrate the nightly news with relevant communication.  

It is ever thus. The incumbent, especially an incumbent president, will always get a news coverage advantage; at least in the earlier days of the campaign. The incumbent, thus, always hopes for a visible public problem he “can solve”, especially if it is in the realm of foreign affairs. 

Sometimes they even perpetrate one. Hopefully not this time around.  

Richard Fulton is an emeritus professor of political science.