First, the campaign’s internal polling was showing the president trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in key states. Team Trump notes that he polls better against a defined candidate and early primary polls should be taken with a truckload of salt. But the campaign is taking them, in part to know where they stand today and what sort of work they need to do between now and November 2020.
Trump and campaign manager Brad Parscale are telling the media the 2020 campaign will be about turnout, not persuasion. Turnout may well be their emphasis. “It all comes down to turnout” is a cliché because there is truth in it. But persuasion matters in a high-turnout election, which is what most already expect for 2020. And Trump won in 2016 in significant part by persuading former Obama voters.
Second, Trump has known the value of publicity long before he got into politics. He must know his 2016 campaign was aided greatly by saturation media coverage. Competing against a crowded field of Republicans, Trump’s ability to dominate the news cycle was an enormous, perhaps decisive advantage. This remained surprisingly true during the general election, when Big Media turned even more hostile.