By Alexander Bolton - 03/16/16 06:00 AM EDT
Democrats are devising their election-year strategy around Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump thought biker rally crowd would resemble ‘I Have a Dream’ speech Weld wins Libertarian nomination for VP Dems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals MORE, confident they will win big this fall with the real estate mogul as the Republican presidential nominee.
Throughout 2015, influential Democratic operatives targeted GOP White House hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio apologized to Trump for 'small hands' crack Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Fla. Senate candidate bashes Rubio MORE, thinking Trump’s campaign would implode. But now, Democrats — including President Obama — are going after Trump hard.
“There’s a sizable percentage of American voters who will never vote for Trump. His politics and personality will really be the focal point of the campaign. It’s bound to have an impact on Senate and House races,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals How airport security lines got so bad Dem senators call for sanctions on Congo MORE (Ill.). “Someone I spoke to yesterday said it’s an 8-percent factor.”
House Democrats are also emboldened though have stopped short of predicting they will win the 30 seats they need to take back the lower chamber.
Trump says he will have coattails in the fall, claiming that he — unlike any of his GOP rivals — can win over “Reagan Democrats” and carry states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. He also has noted that Republicans enjoy an enthusiasm advantage over Democrats this cycle and that his candidacy is sparking new voters to come to the polls.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (Nev.) will deliver a critique of Trump Wednesday at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where he will attempt to tie the celebrity businessman’s no-holds-barred brand of politics to Republican lawmakers and candidates.
Reid will argue the tactics employed by Senate and House Republicans, along with conservative groups, to block Obama’s agenda has created the poisonous political atmosphere in which Trump has thrived, according to a source familiar with his speech.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is working overtime to link vulnerable Republican incumbents to Trump, touting the fact that they have pledged to support the eventual GOP nominee.
The group on Tuesday launched a new multimedia campaign painting the GOP as the “Party of Trump.”
The effort includes a new television ad featuring clips of various Republican incumbents pledging to back their party’s nominee interspersed with clips of Trump using profanity, mocking a disabled New York Times reporter and bragging about the size of his genitalia.
“The candidates who are running have all said they’re going to support him. That means they support the vile things he said. It will be interesting,” said DSCC Chairman Jon TesterJon TesterSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Wasserman Schultz fights to keep her job It's time we empower veterans with entrepreneurial skills MORE (Mont.). “He’s badmouthed women, he’s badmouthed immigrants.”
Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWeld wins Libertarian nomination for VP Sanders supporter challenges Wyo. delegate allocation Dems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals MORE, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has also pivoted toward the general election in recent days.
Campaigning in North Carolina Tuesday, she accused Trump of “bluster, bigotry and bullying” and called his behavior disturbing.
On Monday, she labeled him “dangerous” in a private comment that was picked up by a live microphone and criticized the media for treating his antics “like candy by the bushel.”
Those remarks are a significant shift from last summer, when Clinton didn’t take Trump seriously as a contender for the Republican nomination. At the time, she said, “It’s all entertainment. I think he’s having the time of his life. Getting up on that stage, you know, being up on that stage, saying whatever he wants to say, getting people excited, both for and against him.”
Obama jumped back into the Trump fray on Tuesday by speaking out against what he called the rise of “vicious” politics and “vulgar and divisive rhetoric” at the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch on Capitol Hill. While he did not mention Trump by name, the target was clear. He made similar remarks about Trump in his State of the Union address in January.
The president called on GOP leaders to police Trump’s tactics while acknowledging that Democrats should do more themselves to improve the level of political discourse.
“When we leave this lunch, I think we have a choice,” Obama said. “We can condone this race to the bottom, or accept it as the way things are and sink further or roundly reject this kind of behavior whether we see it in the other party or, more importantly, when we see it our own party. ... It starts with us.”
Obama seized the opportunity to distinguish Trump from Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanSessions: Ryan 'needs to' endorse Trump soon Dole: Gingrich should be Trump's running mate In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable MORE (R-Wis.), who is generally well-respected inside and outside the Beltway.
He said that while he “fiercely” disagrees with Ryan on policy, “I don’t have a bad thing to say about you as a man.”
Ryan also urged Trump on Tuesday to tone down his rhetoric.
“All candidates have an obligation to try and provide an atmosphere of harmony, to reduce violence, to not incite violence and to make sure we are appealing to people on their best ideals,” he said at a news conference at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters.
Senate Republicans are growing increasingly concerned over Trump’s impact on their ability to keep control of the upper chamber in November. Only one GOP senator, Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSessions: Ryan 'needs to' endorse Trump soon GOP senator: 'I would consider’ being Trump’s VP Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns MORE of Alabama, has endorsed him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday urged Trump to condemn recent flare-ups of violence at his rallies, which feed into Democrats’ effort to portray him as an extremist.
“I mentioned to him that I thought it would be a good idea for him no matter who starts these violent episodes to condemn it,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.
The GOP leader spoke just hours after Trump called him as part of his effort to get the Republican establishment to back his campaign and help unify the party.
Reid dismissed McConnell’s admonishment of Trump as too little, too late.
“It’s nice McConnell said something publicly, but it should have started a long time ago,” he said.
Even without Trump creating national headwinds, Senate Republicans have a big job cut for them ahead of Election Day. They must defend 24 seats, compared to the 10 seats Democrats have to protect. Democrats would need to pick up five seats to win back control of the chamber and only four if they retain the White House.
“Senate Republicans are absolutely committed to doing everything it takes to hold this majority,” McConnell said Tuesday.
He has tried to distance himself and his colleagues from Trump by largely refusing to discuss his campaign and by instead emphasizing the chamber’s legislative accomplishments over the past 14 months.
But reporters dog Republican senators about Trump’s controversial statements far more often than they ask about legislation pending on the Senate floor, such as a bill addressing the labeling of genetically modified foods.
Trump on Monday downplayed the recent violence at his rallies, insisting they are “love fests.”
That claim conflicts with footage captured last week of a Trump supporter striking an African-American protester at a rally. The Trump supporter was later arrested.
When pressed, McConnell declined to comment on what it might reflect about Trump that he had to be reminded to condemn violence.
“I’m pretty good at not answering questions I don’t want to answer,” he said.
Republicans counter that Democratic candidates will face their own challenges in trying to distance themselves from Clinton, whose email controversy stemming from her time as secretary of State has attracted interest from federal investigators.
Republicans pushed back ahead of Reid’s scheduled speech.
Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynClinton email headache is about to get worse Overnight Tech: House GOP launches probe into phone, internet subsidies Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill MORE (R-Texas) said Reid bears as much responsibility as anyone for Washington’s dysfunctional atmosphere.
“Can you think of anything more hypocritical? Consider the source,” he said.
Jordan Fabian and Scott Wong contributed.