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US President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump wasn't even in office for a month before his administration decided to hold a pep rally for the new Commander-in-Chief in Melbourne, Florida this past weekend.
Um, isn't it a bit early or just plain strange to do something like that?
Not if you're President Trump. Not when he's up against what and whom he's up against. In fact, he may need to hold these kinds of rallies more often.
The Trump team has made many of the typical missteps each new presidential administration makes in its first weeks. That includes the quick resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, an immigration and travel ban executive order that set much of the country into hysterical protest, and all of this wrapped into the odd and erratic messaging efforts of spokespeople like White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway.
But with a media and political establishment that's quite well-organized and remarkably uniform in its attacks on the new president, deserved or not, these missteps have all be magnified for maximum effect and presented to the public as evidence of a White House in disarray and a president who is, in the words of one veteran national cable network anchor, "unhinged."
Here's the thing: More than half of the country still likely doesn't see it that way. The stock market continues to roar, as the post-election Trump rally hasn't really paused for more than a day or two since the election. President Trump's poll numbers are weak compared to other new presidents at this stage, but his overall approval ratings in the Rasmussen and Gallup polls are both stronger than at any time during the 2016 election. Rasmussen's daily "right track/wrong track" survey has consistently shown a 12-year-high in respondents answering that the country is on the right track since the inauguration. And another Gallup survey from last week shows that 62 percent of respondents see Trump as strong leader who keeps his promises.
But how can the Trump team tap into that decent support? Enter the raucous pep rally complete with First Lady Melania Trump reciting the Lord's Prayer and vowing to remain "truthful, no matter what the opposition says about me." That double shot across the bow was the just the beginning as President Trump himself followed with several references to the news media and his official political opponents as the "enemies" of not just him, but all of the American people.
Like his Twitter account, the rally is President Trump's truly effective way of getting around the traditional media channels to speak directly to the American public. Love or hate his message, it's exceedingly helpful to the Trump team to dictate the timing and tone of those messages. Waiting for the evening network news or even a favored cable news show just isn't as effective.
Other than beating the media to the punch, will this kind of tactic really work? Timing is a key factor in the answer. All the rallies and calls to action can be meaningless if they're done too late or not in the right context. During a low point early in his first term in office, President Richard Nixon called on the great "silent majority" of the nation to be silent no more and show public support for him and his Vietnam War policies. Nixon gave a nationally-broadcast speech in November, 1969 using that "silent majority" term. It worked. Tens of thousands of supporting letters and telegrams poured into the White House and a Gallup poll showed a whopping 77 percent of Americans supported the president's message. Even as Nixon's popularity ebbed and flowed during his first term, he was always able to draw on that direct message to the public that he had made at just the right time. One crucial example of that played out in the spring of 1970 when a group of "silent majority" construction workers stopped being so silent and eventually even physically attacked anti-Vietnam War protesters in Lower Manhattan. That kind of simmering support for Nixon that always seemed to elude the mainstream news media at the time played a big role in his massive re-election victory in 1972.
But Nixon wasn't always so timely. For example, the fact that President Trump held this rally in an airport hangar must not have been lost on those who remember the final days of Nixon's term in office. Long after his fate had been effectively sealed by the Watergate scandal, the Nixon team put together an "impromptu" supportive rally for Nixon at an airport hangar in Caribou, Maine as the president returned from a summit meeting in Moscow. The term "too little, too late" was quite appropriate for that event since about five weeks later Nixon resigned.
This Trump rally, as silly and too soon as it may seem to many, sure looks like it's more like the shrewd "silent majority" variety right now. It served as a chance for the Trump team to continue to remind its detractors that there are plenty of Americans in key states who support the new president and are not even listening to the media's general message about him right now. And it should also remind them that until the Trump opponents start to speak to those people, they won't get much further than they did last November. For Trump, that's a win/win. It's when he's unable to draw a large or enthusiastic crowd at all that he should be worried. And so far, we're not there yet.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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