Trump's worst enemy as he kicks off his re-election bid may be himself

CHARLESTON, S.C. — On the surface, Chris Moody and Steve Neal don't have much in common, except for this: They're excited about voting for President Donald Trump again in 2020.

Moody, a white 24-year-old day-care worker and recent Marshall University graduate from Charleston, West Virginia, is something of a walking billboard for the president's re-election. He strolled into the King's Leaf Cigar Lounge here Saturday wearing a T-Shirt bearing an impressionistic version of Trump's visage and these words: "If Trump is not your president this is not your country. You are not a tree. Move."

He is very tapped into a powerful sentiment stoked by Trump and shared by many of his voters — that Trump is under constant and unfair attack from Democrats, the media and establishment forces in Washington.

"I can't stand the way people talk about him," Moody said.

Neal, a black 49-year-old automotive finance consultant who uses his sparkling white Lexus to drive Uber routes on the side, said his support for Trump is a source of ribbing inside his family of hard-core Democrats in this Charleston and that he seldom talks about his politics unless he's asked.

"My vote speaks strong enough for itself," Neal said.

These two types figure to factor heavily into Trump's success or failure as he seeks a second term in the presidency that few would have predicted possible when he first descended an escalator at his namesake Manhattan skyscraper four years ago without ever having won a single vote for any office.

Now the undisputed center of the political universe, Trump is set to kick off his re-election campaign Tuesday at Orlando's Amway Center having redefined the Republican Party, the tenor of American public discourse and perceptions of the country at home and abroad. He'll do so with the shadow of a possible high-stakes House impeachment looming over his shoulder — a prospect that carries peril for him in its potential to publicize special counsel Robert Mueller's findings in painful fashion and, conversely, one that offers the hope that he can rally new voters to his side in the name of defending his presidency from overzealous opponents.

Because while Trump has formed the most loyal base of supporters in modern history, he has also alienated and mobilized large swaths of the electorate, from liberal city-dwelling Democrats to ex-Republican suburbanites turned off by his crass manner, hard-line positions on social policy, and views of executive power and nationalism that rattle pillars of Western democratic governance.

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Donald Trump through the years
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Donald Trump through the years

Donald Trump with Alfred Eisenpreis, New York City Economic Development Administrator. Sketch of new 1,400 room Renovation project of Commodore Hotel.

(Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Donald Trump pauses in his apartment 5/20 after receiving the news that the Board of Estimate unanimously approved a 40-year tax abatement plan. Under the plan Trump will purchase and refurbish the Commodore Hotel, which closed into doors 5/18, from the Penn Central Transportation Corp. In return for his $10-million-dollar purchase and up to $100 million face-lifting investment, Trump will have no real estate taxes for 40 years.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Real estate developer Donald Trump announces intentions to build a $100 million dollar Regency Hotel.

(Photo by John Pedin/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Donald Trump stands behind architect's model of City Hall Plaza.

(Photo by Frank Russo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Ivana Trump attend Roy Cohn's birthday party in February 1980 in New York City.

(Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

Donna Mills and Donald Trump during 1983 Annual American Image Awards at Sheraton Center in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Donald Trump attends 38th Annual Horatio Alger Awards Dinner on May 10, 1985 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Portrait of real estate mogul Donald John Trump (b.1946), smiling slightly and facing to his right, 1983. New York.

(Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

Boxing promoter Don King holds up the arms of Mike Tyson and former champion Larry Holmes during a press conference here 12/1. Looking on is Donald Trump. The fight will be held at the Trump Plaza Hotel.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Donald Trump, real estate mogul, entrepreneur, and billionare poses in the foyer of his home in August 1987 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

(Photo by Joe McNally/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump during 1988 U.S. Open - September 3, 1988 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Ivana Trump and Donald Trump during Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks Fight at Trump Plaza - June 27, 1988 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Billionaire Donald Trump and his wife Ivana arrive 04 December 1989 at a social engagement in New York.

(Photo credit should read SWERZEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Daughter Ivanka Trump during Maybelline Presents 1991 Look of the Year at Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Donald Trump attends 'Hoop-La' Special Olympics Basketball Game on June 25, 1992 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Donald Trump and Joan Rivers during Opening of The Rose Room in the Plaza Hotel at Plaza Hotel Rose Room in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Donald Trump touches 07 April 1993 Marla Maples stomach to confirm published reports that the actress is pregnant with his child. The two arrived for Maples appearance in the Broadway musical 'The Will Rogers Follies'.

(HAI DO/AFP/Getty Images)

US business tycoon Donald Trump enters the PLaza Hotel in New York past supporters 21 December 1994. Hundreds of supporters showed up at a news conference where Trump denied a New York newspaper report that the Sultan of Brunei had bid 300 million USD to buy the Manhattan hotel.

(Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Christine Whitman during Opening of New Warner Bros. Store in Trump Plaza Casino at Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Donald Trump attends Marc Jacobs Fashion Show on April 4, 1995 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Boxing: IBC Heavyweight Title: View of celebrity businessman Donald Trump and actor Steven Seagal seated ringside during Lennox Lewis vs Tommy Morrison fight at Boardwalk Convention Hall. Atlantic City, NJ. (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) 

New York real estate giant Donald Trump poses in his Trump Tower office on a giant letter 'T' on May 8, 1996.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Portrait of Marla Maples and her husband, businessman Donald Trump, with their daughter Tiffany, as they pose together at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1996.

(Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Ron Delsner backstage at a KISS concert at Madison Squre Garden in New York City on July 25, 1996.

(Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Donald Trump attending Halloween party thrown by Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss at the Supper Club to kick off Fashion Week.  

(Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Donald Trump open his new building at 1 Center Park West- The new Trump International Hotel and Tower.

(Photo byJames Hughes/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Donald Trump and his girlfriend Celina Midelfar watch Conchita Martinez and Amanda Coetzer 07 September at US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY.

(TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Celine Dion, husband Rene, Donald Trump & Ivanka Trump

(Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Entrepreneur Donald Trump and Rev. Al Sharpton speak at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Sharpton's National Action Network Convention April 5, 2002 in New York City. The group aims to further the development of civil rights.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and his girlfriend Melania Knauss attend the Marc Bouwer/Peta Fall/Winter 2002 Collection show February 14, 2002 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City.

(Photo by George De Sota/Getty Images)

Donald Trump at Madison Square Garden

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Donald Trump stands on the sidelines before the start of the AFC divisional playoffs between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans on January 10, 2004 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Temperatures have reached as low as 7 degrees in the Foxboro area.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Donald Trump, Visionary Business Leader award honoree, poses with his children Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka at Fashion Group International's 22nd Annual 'Night Of Stars' at Cipriani's 42nd Street October 27, 2005 in New York City.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

Eric Trump and Donald Trump attend the Chicago Bulls vs New Jersey Nets game at the IZOD Center on October 31, 2007 in East Rutherford, New York.

(Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

 Donald Trump delivers a speech with his son Barron after he was honored with the 2,327th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, CA, 16 January 2007.

(GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Portrait of former model Melania Trump and her husband, businessman Donald Trump, as they sit together at a table during the 16th annual 'Lady in Red' gala, hosted by LIFE (Leaders In Furthering Education), at the Mar-a-Lago club, Palm Beach, Florida, December 4, 2009.

(Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images)

Donald Trump sands with Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela prior to the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant Final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Miss Universe is an annual international beauty pageant and along with the Miss World is the most publicized beauty contest in the world. California clothing company Pacific Mills founded the contest 1952 and was acquired by Donald Trump in 1996.

(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

US tycoon Donald Trump arrives to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 27, 2015.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit runs through Sunday.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump attends Golf legend Jack Nicklaus' Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda March 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Trump announed on March 18 that he has launched a presidential exploratory committee.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Businessman Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa gave several Republican presidential hopefuls an opportunity to strengthen their support among Iowa Republicans ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry with his children Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. Donald Trump answered questions from the media at a press conference.

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Singer Kanye West and President-elect Donald Trump speak with the press after their meetings at Trump Tower December 13, 2016 in New York.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

 Coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, which airs on all ABC News programs and platforms. On this final night of the convention, Donald Trump accepts the party's nomination for President of the United States.

(Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) 

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to an answer his wife Melania gives during an interview on NBC's "Today" show in New York, April 21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters following his meeting with Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group, meeting at Trump Tower, January 9, 2017 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump has coffee during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017.Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump appear on stage at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a U.S. Air Force Academy football jersey that was presented to him by team captain Weston Steelhammer during the presentation of the Commander-in-Chief trophy in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers the keynote address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Days of Remembrance" ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. first lady Melania Trump, their son Barron and the Easter Bunny arrive for the 139th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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The biggest challenge facing Trump on the electoral battlefield is turning the energy of his own base into the kind of wave that brings out new voters. While a big part of that will come down to the efficacy of a cutting-edge data operation focused on adding to his base by finding and turning out supporters who don't normally vote, some of it will hinge on the evangelism of people like Moody and Neal who were there for him last time.

In that way, Trump may be his own worst enemy.

Neal said he's pleased with the economy and having "more of a strong arm" on foreign policy. But the "stupid stuff" Trump says makes it so difficult to advocate effectively on his behalf that Neal doesn't really try.

"The problem is Trump's whole persona," he said.

Modern history and more recent polling suggest Trump has little margin for error in a nation sharply and bitterly divided in its political loyalties. Like George W. Bush, Trump managed to win a first term while losing the popular vote, and public and private surveys show that he has his work cut out for him if he is to claim victory again.

In the last week, polls from Fox News and Quinnipiac University have shown Trump trailing a series of Democratic rivals — with former Vice President Joe Biden leading by 10 points and 13 points, respectively.

More troubling, at least from a public relations perspective, the recent reporting of internal Trump polling from March by ABC News and the New York Times showed him behind Biden in nearly every important swing state. Biden held double-digit leads in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — states that collectively account for more than his margin of victory in 2016 — and NBC reported Sunday that Trump has cut ties to two people who were involved in his polling operations in the aftermath of the data becoming public.

The campaign's top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, said the numbers amounted to a "worst-case scenario" involving a bad turnout model, suggesting they don't reflect the actual state of the race.

The modeling is particularly important when it comes to Trump because his strategy is necessarily built around changing the set of people who show up to the polls in 2020 — and he'll be trying to do that at the same time Democrats are working to counter him both with a surge of their own and by locking down past Trump voters who have been turned off by his presidency to this point.

Trump's approval rating has been in negative territory for almost the entirety of his presidency, and the most recent tabulation by the number-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight.com pegs it at 42.6 percent. But his allies say he is in great shape as he gears up for the Orlando rally and the race ahead of him.

And Chris Wilson, a veteran Republican pollster and political data analyst, said he doesn't put much stock in the traditional surveys he's seeing now because they base their turnout models on recent elections — which may not reflect the reality of 2020 if Trump is successful in targeting and turning out new voters.

"I'm very skeptical of any survey today drawing their sample by asking people whether or not they're going to vote," he said. He recently conducted polling, based on voter-data modeling, that showed Trump in much better position — including holding small leads in Florida and Wisconsin — in key swing states.

The other factor that's impossible to measure right now is the effect of Trump's campaigning against his eventual Democratic opponent, Wilson said.

"Donald Trump is going to have several months, five or six, to make the nominee entirely unpalatable," he said.

Trump's penchant for personal attack may ultimately rally his own base and depress excitement among Democrats, but there's also a risk that it could have the opposite effect.

After years of Twitter feuds and spoken insults of everyone from world leaders to professional athletes, there's a bit of a social stigma attached to Trump in certain circles that could make it harder for him to reap the benefits of the full-throated support from his army of partisans.

Moreover, the president's comportment can alienate voters who are comfortable with his policies.

While that matters less in Moody's home state of West Virginia and Neal's South Carolina, where Trump is sure to win handily, it could be a significant factor in the handful of swing states that will determine who sits in the Oval Office come January of 2021.

Tom Oestreich, 64, of Tucson, Ariz., said in an interview with NBC News that he chose Trump because he couldn't vote for Clinton. He would have voted for former Vice President Joe Biden in 2016 had Biden been the Democratic nominee, he said, but he now sees the Democratic front-runner as "tripping" on the campaign trail and "a little bit too old."

A self-described moderate Republican, Oestreich said he is leaning toward Trump because of the state of the economy and his handling of foreign policy but is bothered by what he describes as the president sounding like he has "a fifth-grade education." He's giving a second look to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

"I'm not crazy about Buttigieg, but he's got a great pedigree, a great resume," Oestreich said of the Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan War veteran. "If it comes down to the two of them ... there's a very good possibility I could vote for him."

Democrats believe they have a shot at turning Arizona in their favor for the second time since Harry Truman won it in 1948, in part because Trump carried the state by only three-and-a-half percentage points in 2016 and in part because they captured a Senate race there last year for the first time since 1988.

But as has been the case since early in his first presidential run, Trump can count on unflinching support from a loyal base that is more than willing to take on anyone who stands in his way — whether that means Democrats or wavering Republicans. Many of them cast him as their champion in almost epic terms.

"I think he's doing good," Trump voter Kitty Klipstine of Dayton, Ohio, said in an interview for Hardball's "The Deciders," which will air on MSNBC at 10 p.m. ET Monday. "It's just he's fighting Congress, fighting both parties, really, which is a shame because the Republicans should back him all the way."

Like Klipstine, Roger Carey of Ankeny, Iowa, is proud of the job Trump has done and sees any shortcomings as a function of the resistance he's met in Washington.

"I like that he has accomplished the things that he ran on," Carey said. "I like that he wants to support our borders, guarding our borders. Positive things for the country — would like to see Congress back him, though, and get things done."

The trick for the president is to convince anyone who agrees with Carey — but didn't cast a vote for Trump last time around — to back his bid to hold on to the job.

— Maura Barrett reported from Boone, Iowa, and Cal Perry reported from Dayton, Ohio

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