President Donald Trump surveyed the crowd of thousands of Boy Scouts at their summit Monday and assessed, “There’s a lot of love in this big, beautiful place. And a lot of love for our country.” He singled out for affection West Virginia, a state that gave him his largest margin of victory in November.
“What we did, in all fairness, is an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that came out and voted to make America great again,” he said as chants of “USA!” broke out among the Scouts, most of whom were too young to vote.
It’s a message that only works in Trump-backing corners of America. As president, he’s been drawn again and again to those comfort zones, while largely avoiding states where voters chose his Democratic opponent, a review by The Associated Press found.
Of his 33 domestic trips out of Washington, he’s set foot in non-Trump voting states only seven times other than to stay at his own golf property in Bedminster, New Jersey. The AP’s count does not include the president’s frequent day trips to his nearby Virginia golf course. He also has not journeyed too far, traveling west of the Mississippi River only once and so far dodging the Mountain and Pacific time zones.
Trump’s quick Monday trip to West Virginia and his campaign rally planned Tuesday evening in Ohio follow that same pattern.
Over the weekend, the president visited Norfolk, Virginia, to help commission the Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford air craft carrier. Other stops in pro-Clinton states have been similarly brief and focused, including two for commencement addresses.
Far more common have been his sojourns to Trump country, where he can heap praise on voters without caveats.
He told thousands of fans at a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, arena last month that they were bound by common values, including love of family and country. “With that deep conviction in your hearts,” he said, “you showed up on Election Day, November 8th, and voted to put America first.”
To a crowd in Louisville, Kentucky in March, he mused, “We’re in the heartland of America, and there is no place I would rather be than here with you tonight.”
Brendan Doherty, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who studies how presidents spend their time, said it’s noteworthy that Trump is sticking to places that like him – a break from how Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush shaped their first-year travel schedules.
Both, particularly Bush who won a nail-biter election and, like Trump, lost the popular vote, spent time in states they’d narrowly lost. Bush also traveled to states he’d decisively lost, while it took Obama more time to expand his travel itinerary to deep-red, or Republican-leaning, states.
Bush hit the road extensively in his first six months, making 62 domestic trips to places other than Maryland and Virginia, according to Doherty’s records. Obama made 55 such trips, his records show.
“It’s imperative for the president to be seen as president of all the people,” Doherty said.
Trump is also blazing a different trail by holding events that are more like general pep rallies than specific policy pushes. At his five political rallies this year, Trump revived his 2016 campaign trail style, disparaging perceived opponents, cheering his record and antagonizing the media. He hasn’t zeroed in on any policy themes or chosen his locations based on what he’s trying to accomplish as president.
For example, Trump hasn’t appeared in Nevada, a state he narrowly lost in November, even though its Republican senator is seen as crucial to passing Trump-backed health care proposals.
“The people in Nevada and especially the Republicans here would be excited to have the president come out here,” said Carl Bunce, chairman of the GOP organization in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. “If President Trump were to visit, it would be a tremendous help to organize teams on the ground throughout the county and state.”
White House officials rejected the idea that Trump is only staying on friendly turf and noted that two of the states he’s visiting this week – West Virginia and Ohio – are home to senators pivotal to the health care vote. The upcoming rally is in Youngstown, Ohio, a county Trump lost in November’s election.
“The president has had an incredibly robust schedule, and it reflects the accomplishments and promises he’s made on issues like immigration, the economy and health care,” said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
Although Trump’s base of support remains strong, other Americans have not warmed up to him. An ABC News/Washington Post survey at his six-month mark showed he had a 36 percent approval rating, the lowest at that point for any president in at least 70 years of polling. Both Obama and Bush had approval ratings hovering above 50 percent at the six-month mark of their first years.
Doherty said that a broader domestic travel agenda wouldn’t necessarily help Trump’s overall bottom line when it comes to approval. But he said local media coverage in the places a president visits tends to be positive, meaning he could strategically boost his appeal.