President Donald Trump’s demand for U.S. schools to fully reopen this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic is central to an emerging re-election strategy that seeks to resuscitate his flagging support in the nation’s critical suburbs.
Trump in recent weeks has taken stances on hot-button issues his campaign hopes will appeal to suburban voters, particularly women, who have soured on the Republican president since his 2016 election and continue to move away as the virus rages across the country and the economy sputters.
Along with aggressively pushing for students to return to classrooms – “Schools must be open in the Fall,” he tweeted on Friday – Trump has warned of rising urban crime rates and threats to civil order in the wake of protests over racial injustice while pointing to the vibrant stock market as a marker of economic health.
The messaging amounts to a fresh effort to position Trump as the candidate of public safety and social and economic stability, several people close to the campaign said.
So far, there is little sign the approach is working. Trump trails his presumptive Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election, Joe Biden, in both national and battleground state polls.
Suburbs in key election states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida are filled with affluent swing voters, and many feature large, robust public school systems.
Shannon K. Alsop, a 39-year-old doctor and mother of two school-age children in prosperous Bucks County outside of Philadelphia, said Trump is politicizing the reopening of America’s schools because he believes it will benefit his campaign.
“At the end of the day, all of us parents just want our families to be safe,” Alsop said. “The question is, Can we open our schools and have them be safe? I want that decision to be founded in research and science. I don’t trust the president to make that call for us.”
Trump’s campaign views K-12 schools’ reopening as one key to an economic recovery, allowing working parents with young children to be more productive while addressing concerns that distance learning is harmful to some students.
Public schools also provide meals and other social services for at-risk children.
“It’s about the economy. It’s about the education of their kids,” said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “Parents are extremely frustrated.”