President Donald Trump was the star atop Janet Davis' Christmas tree last year. A Trump train circled underneath its branches. The 63-year-old is no “Bible thumper," as she put it, but she does believe God put Trump in the White House for a reason.
Davis is praying for a second intervention on Nov. 3. And she knows what she wants Trump to accomplish in another four years.
“I like the idea of the wall,” said Davis, a 63-year-old from Port Orange. “Absolutely, the wall.”
In a series of interviews with Trump supporters across Central Florida, Davis was like many who aren’t looking for anything new from the president in a second term. Lynn Holtmeyer, 69, put it succinctly: “I want Trump to keep doing what he’s been doing.”
Sentiments like those from Trump’s base reflect a campaign unburdened with having to make promises to voters. At rallies and in the debates, Trump repeats many of the fights of the past four years but says little about the next four. His campaign website prominently features a list of promises kept but not an agenda for what’s ahead. In The Villages, Vice President Mike Pence summed up their closing pitch with a mantra that hearkened back to the 2016 race: “We’re gonna make America great again — again.”
The absence of a more cogent vision is a departure from past presidential candidates — including Trump. Though an unconventional campaigner, Trump nevertheless laid out a clear road map for his presidency in 2016. It included promises to make Mexico pay for a wall at the southern border, ban Muslims from entering the country, repeal the Affordable Care Act, balance the federal budget, tear up existing trade deals, invest $550 billion infrastructure and cut corporate taxes.
Trump’s approach this year "would have been very unusual even two election cycles ago,” said Susan MacManus, a longtime political analyst and professor at University of South Florida, “but the more ideological our elections have become, the more personality driven they are.”
For many of Trump’s most loyal supporters, who often take their cues from the president, there’s a similar ambiguity toward what comes next. In conversations with more than two dozen Trump supporters at campaign events in Tampa, The Villages, Ocala and Sanford, most told the Tampa Bay Times they are looking for one thing in a second term: More of the same.
“He has done so much,” said Carmen Flores, a 67-year-old Ocala nurse. “He kept all his promises, so I can’t say ‘Do something you didn’t do.’” (A PolitiFact analysis of 106 Trump campaign promises determined he broke half of them.)
Instead, voters like Flores are hopeful Trump will continue to lead the fight in the culture war against the left.
“He has the power to just send the National Guard to all those blue states and fix the problem,” she said, referring to protests over racial injustice and police brutality. “I know he wants to, but the governors of those states, Democrats, they’re not helping him.”
Alyssa Thompson, a 19-year-old from Inglis, works for her family’s tree-removal business. She hoped Trump would “get rid of Obamacare,” a promise from his first term. She added: “I like that he’s pro-life, so I hope he keeps fighting for that. And lowering taxes.”
Trump has spent much of the campaign on the defensive over his handling of the coronavirus and fending off attacks on his temperament from former Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, he hasn’t changed the subject with a forward-looking vision. Neither have Republicans. At their summer convention, Republicans declined to write a new party platform. Instead, they re-passed the 2016 platform, not bothering to remove more than three dozen unflattering references to the “current president," left over from when Barack Obama was in the White House. The platform even censured the “current” officeholder.
His allies have repeatedly attempted to coax a second-term agenda out of him, but Trump has appeared content with relitigating the 2016 campaign and battles from his first term. In June, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Trump for his “top priority for a second term.” Trump instead attacked his former national security adviser John Bolton.
“One of the things that will be really great — the word experience is still good, I always say talent is more important than experience, I’ve always said that — but the word experience is a very important word, a very important meaning,” Trump told Hannity. “I never did this before. I never slept over in Washington ... All of the sudden, I’m president of the United States.”
Asked about a second-term agenda, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman Emma Vaughn shared a list of general promises released in late August that included: “create 10 million jobs in 10 months," “develop a vaccine by 2020” and “build the world’s greatest infrastructure system.”
"President Trump’s second-term agenda means more jobs, fairer trade deals and higher-quality health care for all Floridians,” Vaughn said.
For Democratic voters, defeating Trump may be the top objective, but many also expect sweeping changes to American policy on immigration, health care and the environment. “Joe’s vision” is displayed at the top of Biden’s campaign website, with detailed proposals for areas like defeating COVID-19 and strengthening rural America.
Desiree Ellison said she doesn’t need Trump to use the Oval Office to advance specific policy priorities. The 34-year-old from Tampa described herself as a small-government Republican who prefers a less active executive branch.
“I don’t believe that’s part of what this movement is about,” Ellison said. “It’s more about individual freedoms and preserving the liberty that we have had for years. You have your individual liberties ... and as they say in the military, you get a box, you can do whatever you want in the box, just don’t go outside of the box. And that’s kind of how I feel like it should be."
Times staff writer Josh Solomon contributed to this story.
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