Donald Trump veered wildly from topic to topic but failed at another re-election rally to describe his vision for a second term, opting instead to mock a former president’s middle name and gripe about a list of personal grievances.
As he courted voters in swing state North Carolina, the president made his latest direct appeal to suburban women voters, a group he won in 2016 but lost during the 2018 midterm elections. But they have been breaking for Democratic nominee Joe Biden in 2020 polls, meaning he needs to win some back in the campaign’s final days to secure a second four-year term.
“The moms are heroes,” he said to cheers. “I will open your schools. Biden will close the schools.”
But his performance lacked any coherent message, which has become a theme of his re-election campaign. His first White House run was based on promising better trade deals, hardline immigration policies, and an end to business-as-usual in Washington.
Yet, he spent about 10 minutes around the top of the 8 o’clock hour talking about gross domestic product and the Atlanta Federal Reserve. Not the kind of thing people in the greater Gastonia area spend much time discussing.
Watch: Obama tells Pa. voters to “Turn out like never before”
Mr Trump’s Gastonia performance was another case of him standing behind a lectern listing a long strong of loosely related grievances, most about himself and his political enemies.
He again tried tying his general election foes to the “radical” left wing of their party: “They’re going to raise your taxes by $4trn. … The Biden tax hikes will wipe out up to another quarter of small business income.” (As usual, the president did not provide supporting evidence to support the claim.)
Mr Trump kept alive his feud with “60 Minutes” reporter Lesli Stahl after a day earlier walking out of a taped interview with her at the White House.
“You’ll see,” he said. “We have a little surprise for ‘60 Minutes’.”
Mr Trump has threatened to release a White House-made recording of the interview before the network is slated to air it on Sunday evening. Such taped sessions typically are embargoed, meaning if the White House breaks it, it would seem to draw into question even reasonable embargoes it puts on background calls with groups of reporters and interviews.
He rekindled another feud, with former President Barack Obama, by mocking his return to the campaign trail on Wednesday in Philadelphia for Mr Biden. The president repeatedly used his predecessor's full name: Barack Hussein Obama.
The president was back in North Carolina as polls suggest he and Mr Biden are running neck-and-neck in search of its 15 Electoral College votes.
He hit the stage in Gastonia, known in some Carolina social circles as “The Gas House,” to thunderous applause in the heart of the state’s Trump Country.
The president won Gaston County, of which Gastonia is the county seat, with 64 per cent of the vote. He took neighboring Lincoln and Cleveland counties with 72 percent and 63.7 per cent of the vote.
He has held several recent campaign rallies in deeply red parts of battleground states, an attempt to drive up turnout among his conservative base to offset expected high Democratic turnout in urban areas.
FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls in the Tar Heel State put Mr Biden ahead by 3.1 percentage points, while RealClearPolitics’ average puts the former VP ahead by 2.3 points. Because those margins are within the window of error for every averaged poll, the data suggests a virtual dead heat with just over 12 days to go.
The close race there and in other battlegrounds suggests independents, scoffed at for a decade as a dying breed in such a partisan country, are as important as ever.
“The reality … is that most independents lean toward one party, but their preferences are still masked at the voter registration level,” analysts at FiveThirtyEight wrote on Wednesday. “This is especially tricky in battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania that have seen major upticks in the share of voters who have registered with no party affiliation.”
The president had a relatively quiet day before heading to Gastonia.
But some of his top aides spent the day playing down expectations for a deal anytime soon on another coronavirus relief bill. They also tried playing up blame, and pinning it one of the boss’s top rivals: Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I'm still very hopeful and very optimistic that we're making progress, and yet you know our Senate Republicans are starting to get to a point where they believe that she is not negotiating in a fair and equitable manner,” White House Chief of Staff Mar Meadows said, referring to the California Democrat.
“It looks like the Democrats have once again defeated at least a foundation of $500[bn] to $600bn,” he told reporters at the White House. “Because of politics, Democrats decided to say no, but we're going to continue to stay engaged over the next couple of days.”
Next up: Thursday night’s second and final debate between Mr Trump and Mr Biden.
Watch: Obama says Trump can’t even “protect himself”