by Gabby Morrongiello · August 9, 2018
In his final push before the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump spent the end of October furiously crisscrossing the country for nightly rallies with thousands of supporters. On Nov. 7 alone, the day before Election Day, the oldest president-to-be greeted voters in five different states over 12 hours.
So when Trump told longtime friend Sean Hannity in an interview last week that he plans to spend “six or seven days a week” campaigning with Republican candidates in the remaining two months before the midterm elections, few of his allies blinked twice.
The frenetic president, who turned 72 earlier this summer and has often bragged about his stellar health and “stamina,” is hell-bent on hitting the campaign trail as often as possible once September arrives. This week in particular, following four successful GOP primary endorsements and one special election win, Trump revealed his operating assumption: that his appearances alone can propel candidates with dim chances to glorious victories.
“As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win!” Trump claimed in a tweet Wednesday, hours after Republican Troy Balderson eked out a win over his Democratic opponent in a special race for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District.
Trump acknowledged in his mid-morning brag that maintaining a full-time campaign schedule can come only after he’s adequately addressed ongoing issues with “China, Iran, the economy and much more.”
But those close to the president’s circle insist that Trump will find time to spend multiple evenings each week at rallies and fundraisers, and some of them are concerned about the risks of such frequent public exposure.
One former White House official pointed to a July rally in Montana, where Trump’s primary purpose was to boost GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale. Trump “got himself in trouble,” according to this person, when he took his usual riff against Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a notch too far and mocked the #MeToo movement.
Warren, the president suggested, might cry foul if he were to toss her a DNA test during a future presidential debate so she could prove her Native American heritage. Warren is widely seen as a potential 2020 contender on the Democratic side.
“We’ll take that little kit and say, we have to do it gently because we are in the Me Too generation, and we will very gently take that kit, slowly toss it” to her, Trump said, drawing cheers and hollers from the crowd as he added that he would offer $1 million to charity if Warren took the ancestry exam and proved her “Indian” roots.
The Warren episode was one of many instances where Trump has created news cycles in mere seconds with one-off comments about the culture wars, his political opponents, or the press. Some of the president’s most die-hard supporters will even admit his loose canon persona is a political liability at a time when Republicans are hoping to preserve their congressional majority.
“He’s enormously popular with Republicans, so they don’t care when he says those sorts of things,” said the former White House official, referring to Trump’s mockery of Warren and the #MeToo movement for victims of sexual harassment or assault.
But that popularity doesn’t extend “to independent voters, Democrats, or the media,” the official said, “so it almost always becomes a negative headline that can do damage in a competitive district.”
Trump has enjoyed steady support among self-identified Republicans in recent polls. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey in late July found 88 percent of GOP voters strongly or somewhat approved of his job performance, and the poll was taken before and after he received near universal criticism for his comments at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That support could mean little, however, in areas where Trump’s presence alongside a candidate might be polarizing enough to cost Republicans’ the race. Instead, the president has focused his efforts so far on traditional battleground states he carried in 2016 (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Tennessee, Florida) and at least two (Nevada and Virginia) he didn’t.
“Give me the top 25 congress people that are, you know, could go either way, and I want to go out and campaign for those people,” Trump told Hannity, noting that he asked his chief of staff John Kelly to put together a list of the most vulnerable Republican candidates and competitive races so he could make his way to each district or state in the coming weeks.
Not everything the president says in his unscripted stump speeches is a potential detriment to GOP candidates, including his latest message on immigration. As of late, Trump has sought to capitalize on calls from progressive Democrats to “abolish ICE,” the primary federal agency in charge of enforcing immigration laws inside the United States.
“We protect ICE,” Trump said at his July rally in Montana, adding in a Fox News interview the same week that getting rid of the agency would create “a country [where] you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house.”
Trump’s line about ICE, in addition to other criticisms he’s offered about Democratic positions on trade, healthcare, and his Supreme Court nominee, has since been repeated by Republicans seeking to attach themselves to Trump so they can ride his base of support to victory in November. Even in their TV spots, many GOP candidates have chosen to run with a pro-Trump message versus an ad that exclusively attacks their Democratic opponent or party leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Trump was reference positively in 14.8 percent of federal election ads… in the past two months,” the Wesleyan Media Project wrote in a report this week, “whereas President Obama was mentioned positively in less than 1 percent… during the same time period in 2010 to 2014.”
“The problem is, once you align yourself with the president on one issue there’s no escaping the uglier things he sometimes says,” said a former Trump campaign adviser, adding that the president’s upcoming campaign schedule could potentially be “a gift to Democrats just before the election.”
Washington Examiner · by Gabby Morrongiello · August 9, 2018