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What Trump needs to highlight during RNC: Expert

Firehouse Strategies Partner and Former Chief of Staff to the Marco Rubio for President Campaign Matt Terrill joins Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita to discuss his expectations as the Republican National Convention kicks off Monday.

Video Transcript

- Let's bring in our guest Matt Terrill. He's a partner at Firehouse Strategies and the former chief of staff to Marco Rubio during his presidential campaign. Matt, it's great to have you on today.

You heard Jess just sort of lay out the case right now. Let's start with the economy. Because that has been the president's strong suit.

You're looking at record unemployment. We've seen the biggest decline since the Great Depression. How does the president make the case for four more years?

MATT TERRILL: Right. Well, to your point, elections, and this election, this can be a referendum on the incumbent. And this election's going to be a referendum on President Trump and his record.

And so, in terms of moving forward and winning this race, President Trump, particularly this week, needs to highlight how, just a few months ago, prior to COVID-19, under his watch, the economy was doing well, that the job market, in terms of manufacturing jobs in this country, were doing quite well. It's really highlighting for the American people that, not too long ago under his watch, this country was on the right course, the right path, that the country can be back on that course under his leadership. And under Joe Biden, the country will not. It's really that stark contrast between the two candidates, but really, the president highlighting how his path, his vision for the future won't just help over the next few months, but over the next four years with the American people.

- Matt, we heard the Democrats last week make the case for Joe Biden, saying, essentially look, when the biggest crisis-- the biggest health crisis-- hit, the president simply didn't know how to manage it. And they pointed to those numbers that we're looking at right now. How challenging is that for President Trump to say, look, things were going fine, but the virus hit, and, because of my management, things are getting better, when, in fact, the numbers don't bear that out.

MATT TERRILL: Well, it's very much a challenge, to your point. And for the president, it's really demonstrating for the American people and feeding into what they most likely know. And that is, look, all the challenges of our time are not going be solved between now and November.

What the American people are looking for and what the president is hoping he can demonstrate is that he has the vision, the plan for the next four years to get this country back on track. And it's really trying to show incremental micro-success for macro gains. And we saw that just last night at his press conference at the White House. We're seeing that today in Charlotte, where he's really trying to underline how we are making gains and progress, at least under his claims and watch, that the country is on the right track towards COVID-19 relief, and also on economic relief and other issues of our time. So for the president, it's really trying to show incremental, small gains that are going to lead to big success for the next four years for the American people.

- Well, we've seen a number of Republicans who have come forward and say they, in fact, are voting for Joe Biden. You, of course, have Mitt Romney. You have former Arizona senator Jeff Flake now coming out as well.

Last week, we had a number of Republicans, including John Kasich, Colin Powell, being highlighted to sort of show that Joe Biden has a very big tent. How significant are those endorsements from the Republican Party towards Joe Bide? And ultimately, how does Donald Trump play that? Or does it matter if his base is energized?

MATT TERRILL: Right. Well, to your point, it's a base situation here. And really, the president, four years ago, saw many of these same issues with many prominent Republicans, even at his own convention, coming out and not being too favorable to the president or his nomination.

So he's already experienced that. His campaign has seen that four years ago. And they won.

In terms of a former Governor John Kasich or any other Republican stepping out and endorsing Joe Biden, I frankly don't think there's a big premium on those endorsements. I'm in Wisconsin today, one of the big battleground states, as we all know, heading into election day.

The people I talk to around this state, in a social distancing way, aren't concerned about what former Republican governor is endorsing either nominee. They're concerned about their future.

They're concerned about their health for their kids and their family. They're concerned about their jobs and the economy. The president needs to double-down on his vision for the future of this country on those key kitchen table issues. If he does that, it doesn't matter who endorses him or doesn't endorse him. He can win this race if he talks about the future and improving his right track, wrong track poll numbers.

- When you talk about the kitchen table issues, how important is foreign policy in all of that? You heard the criticism from the Republican side of what happened last week, which is, there weren't a lot of specifics that the Democrats gave. There was a vision that was painted.

The Republicans, no question-- certainly you're going to want to point to the president's strong stance on China, the trade deal, NAFTA. I mean, how important is that, ultimately, when a voter is trying to decide who to vote for? And how do the Republicans play that, if, in fact, they see that as part of President Trump's success?

MATT TERRILL: Sure. Well, some of those issues, like the trade deal, are a bit dangerous for the president. There are some folks in his base of his party who agree with him on the trade deal.

But there's a lot who don't. There's a lot of Americans out there who don't agree with that either. But other issues of foreign policy, you know, you're correct.

Joe Biden did not lay out a huge vision or plan for foreign policy last week. That plays into the Biden campaign's strategy of still trying to lay low and not put too much out there as they feel that they're ahead in this race.

What President Trump needs to do is lay out that he has American strength. And playing to his notion and his principle that seems to play well with his base and middle voters-- at least in his view-- and that is his America First plan, really demonstrating how he's protecting our country during these difficult times. While foreign policy is top of mind among voters nationwide, people have been hit hard at home right here at the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy. Those domestic issues may very well take center fold given the times we were living in, more so than any typical election in the past.

- And Matt, as we look to the convention kicking off tonight, how important are these conventions, especially in this kind of year, where things are largely done virtually? Sure, Republicans are going to have-- or say they're going to have a little more of a live element to it. But you saw the polls that came out.

Joe Biden didn't get a big bump. He wasn't expected to get a big bump out of the convention. How important is this week to President Trump's chances for re-election?

MATT TERRILL: Well, you know, I think President Trump right now is really trying to take everyday to get himself out there and utilize the spotlight of this. Unlike Joe Biden, who did the more traditional route of giving one main speech last week, his nominating speech, we saw just about an hour ago or so, President Trump live in Charlotte talking to delegates and folks in that arena. You're going to see a lot more of the president taking advantage of this moment, this week, to really get his message and vision for the future of this country across to the American people.

It's a different format. But just like the Democrats embraced that format last week and used it to their advantage to control their message and their position on the issues of last week, you're going to see President Trump and the RNC try to do that this week, but leaning into Trump's strength. And that's going out, doing rallies, being in the spotlight.

That's, in many cases, where President Trump shines, is at his best. And the Trump campaign's going to utilize that throughout this week. So in terms of that, I think it's going to be a real unique week for the Trump campaign moving forward here.

- And Matt, finally, we've got-- what-- just over two months left to go before the election. Certainly, a lot of people are already casting their votes through the mail-in ballots. But let's say you've got a seat at the table here within the Trump re-election campaign. What's the one piece of advice you give to the president and his advisors in terms of what this election could really hinge on? Does it really come down to the virus and the economy?

MATT TERRILL: Well, my advice would be, elections are about the future. And this convention needs to be about the future. Right now, President Trump in this race is about his record. It's about his vision.

He needs to talk about his plan for the next four years, highlight how he is the right man at the right place at the right time to lead this country. He's going to have plenty of surrogates throughout this week attack Joe Biden on his nearly 50 years in public office. Right now, the president needs to be focused on his plan.

He needs to give the American people confidence that he has what it takes to lead this country over the next four years and that Joe Biden is a worse path. And you brought up mail-in voting, or early voting, or absentee voting. Look, Republicans tend to do well in absentee voting, particularly in key states like Florida.

I would suggest and I would hope that the RNC and the Trump campaign would look at that and try to change course on that as well to try and embrace more early voting. If I'm advising the Trump campaign, my advice would be, embrace early voting. It's going to help you in key states like Florida and other key battleground states around the nation.

- OK, we'll see if the president heeds that advice. Matt Terrill, good to talk to you. Partner at Firehouse Strategies joining us there.

MATT TERRILL: Thanks for your time.