Trump breaks with GOP, sparking new tensions

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse expected to vote on omnibus Thursday afternoon House passes 'right to try' drug bill Spending bill rejects Trump’s proposed EPA cut MORE is publicly breaking with congressional Republicans on trade and guns, causing tensions within the party at a time when lawmakers hope to be united ahead of the midterm elections. 

Republican strategists and nonpartisan political experts say Trump appears to be looking beyond this fall’s elections, when GOP control of Congress is at stake, to his own bid for a second term in 2020.

“Clearly he’s targeting Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those were, all four, key battleground states for him in the last election and the states he would have to win if he’s going to win reelection,” said Saul Anuzis, a political strategist and former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

“It’s a very calculated, direct move with regards to the constituency he needs,” Anuzis added. “Campaigns are no longer limited to months before the election but literally start the day after someone gets elected.”

The big breaking point between Trump and the GOP is his decision to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports.

The announcement on Thursday of the tariffs, which have yet to formally be put in place, came shortly after Trump said that Brad Parscale, his longtime digital marketing strategist, would be his 2020 reelection campaign manager.

While there have been no significant polls on the tariffs so far, Trump’s populist positions on trade were popular in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, states that sealed his victory over Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump can save Republicans and restore sanity to California in 2018 Breitbart News denies readership drop, alt-right label Mellman: The next war MORE in 2016.   

“He’s fighting for the industrial Midwest, which is essentially the key for him to win reelection, and this is obviously something where he is putting their interests first while everyone else is pooh-poohing the idea of fighting for the American worker,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainZuckerberg: Maybe tech should face some regulations Schiff mocks Trump: Obama, Bush didn't need staff warning 'do not congratulate' Putin GOP senator tears into Trump for congratulating Putin MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

On guns, Trump has signaled a shift from his own position, embracing the idea of tougher background checks and even discussing new age limits on gun purchases. Polls suggest growing support for such provisions, and the president’s flexibility on the issue may be a draw in Florida, another swing state he carried in 2016.

While it does not appear that legislation on guns is going anywhere fast, Trump’s public positioning allows him to show independence from his party, and he clearly enjoyed telling GOP lawmakers at a public meeting last week that they were too fearful of the National Rifle Association.

“His reelection has been his sole preoccupation,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

While the European Union has warned of retaliation that could include tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which are manufactured just outside Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Dem moves to force vote on bill protecting Mueller Collins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill MORE’s (R-Wis.) district, Trump hasn’t blinked.

“I don’t really think he cares that much about whether the Europeans go after Harley-Davidson in Paul Ryan’s district. I think this is all about him,” said Baker.

Trump’s position on trade helped him pick up the support of so-called Reagan Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These culturally conservative blue-collar voters in past elections sided with Democrats in large part because their party was more skeptical of free trade.

“My sense is that he’s looking back at his promises he made in the campaign. He said he would do something like this, and one of the reason he won Ohio is some Democrats in places like Youngstown were hoping he would keep those promises,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist based in Ohio.

Youngstown was a pillar of Ohio’s once flourishing steel industry before U.S. Steel demolished its furnaces in the early 1980s, starting a long economic decline.

But Republican lawmakers warn a trade war could blunt the economic stimulus of last year’s tax package and have an impact on the polls in November.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOmnibus includes search-and-seize provision New kid on the tech block Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed MORE (R-Utah) warned, “It’s just going to be a huge tax on American citizens.”

Farm-state Republicans are especially concerned about retaliatory measures against U.S. agriculture exports.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsRural America hopes Trump hasn't forgotten his promise Republicans slam Trump's tariffs plan Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs MORE (R-Kan.) brought Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Colo.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to a meeting with Trump in January to help make the case that trade policy could have an impact on the midterm elections.

GOP strategists say control of the Senate next year may depend on races in states where farm exports are a big part of the local economies.

Weaver said the moderate gun control proposals that Trump embraced last week, expanding background checks to gun shows and online sales and raising the minimum age for purchasing assault-style weapons to 21 years, may help him with Ohio swing voters in the suburbs.

“Certainly in suburban districts political messaging about background checks would be much more popular than some of the more rural districts,” Weaver said.

“Some groups of voters will be very open to more gun regulation so to the extent that the president was [addressing] some of those areas it could help somewhat.”

Weaver also noted that Republican candidates running in November would likely fare better the higher the president’s popularity is in the state.

Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., says Trump’s position on background checks could help him with moderate Republicans in suburban areas.

“It might help him with the suburban Republicans that have moved away from him and from their party over the last couple of decades. The suburbs are the critical battlegrounds that end up deciding [races],” Madonna said.