Trump looks to seize political momentum in 2018

Trump looks to seize political momentum in 2018

The White House believes a strong close to 2017, capped by the passage of a $1.5 trillion tax bill, has put President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE in a positive position as he enters his second year in office.

The sweeping tax package helped erase the sting of the GOP’s failure to repeal ObamaCare and let Trump and his congressional allies put their very public differences aside in a year-end celebration at the White House.

Trump's team argues that the tax bill, which also ended the mandate for individuals to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act and opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, put a bow on a positive and meaningful first year for Trump.


“At the end of the year, you see the president achieving things and getting results,” said a White House official. “We had, basically, a hat trick of accomplishments coming in all at once in the tax bill.”

Trump is adding those achievements to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a dozen other judges to federal courts and the rollback of Obama-era rules and regulations.

After a months-long legal battle, the White House was able to implement a modified version of its travel ban and impose new rules to fulfill Trump’s promise to carry out “extreme vetting” on immigrants and travelers entering the U.S.

“It's always a lot of fun when you win,” Trump said this week, surrounded by GOP lawmakers after the tax bill’s passage.

During his run for the White House in 2016, Trump promised Americans they would get “so sick and tired of winning” during his presidency.

But the streak could be difficult to keep up in the new year, which Trump enters with approval ratings hovering in the low 30s.

Government funding will run out Jan. 19 under a spending deal that also pushed thorny debates over immigration, ObamaCare and children’s health insurance into early 2018.

That could complicate the White House’s desire to get off to a running start on their priorities for next year: infrastructure and welfare reform.

Trump will need Democratic votes to pass almost all of those items, which could be even harder to come by with the midterm elections looming in November.

All of the fighting throughout the year has left Trump bruised, while putting the House and Senate majorities into play for Democrats.

The Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to win the House and just two to take control of the Senate, following Sen.-elect Doug Jones’s (D) victory in deep-red Alabama’s special election. While Jones defeated a decidedly flawed candidate in Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE, the results suggested Democratic voters are willing to come out in the midterm elections.

Trump’s advisers are confident the president’s political standing will improve once Americans see higher paychecks as a result of the tax overhaul.

“As the economy gets better and as the president has more months in office... he can take direct credit for it, and I think he is going to get direct credit,” the official said.

But some Republicans do not share that view and are warning the White House that Trump’s political problems will not fix themselves.

Their concern is heightened by internal divisions over the White House’s political strategy heading into the 2018 elections.

Deputy White House chief of staff Rick Dearborn, who oversaw the political operation, is leaving the administration next year.

His exit comes as the White House is girding itself for a string of departures around the one-year mark of Trump’s presidency, which is expected to leave key absences across the West Wing.

News of Dearborn’s departure comes on the heels of reports of a heated dispute between White House political director Bill Stepien and Corey LewandowskiCorey LewandowskiPentagon chief to restore advisory panels after purge of Trump loyalists Trump denies fighting with Pence for hiring Lewandowski The Memo: Dangers intensify for Trump as Vance brings charges MORE, Trump’s former campaign manager, over the direction of the president’s operation, which also includes the Republican National Committee and outside groups.

While some people close to Trump downplayed the significance the argument, they said it underscored the need for the president’s team to undertake a more aggressive and focused effort to sell his policies to the public and push back against his political opponents.

“As long as their primary focus every day is about the economy, it will give them the power to do whatever they want to do,” said former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett. “If they don’t do that, it will be very difficult to do anything else.”

Bennett said Trump should “buy his own shovel to go to every groundbreaking he can go to” between now and November to drive home his message and boost his numbers.

Trump is widely expected to hit the trail for Republican candidates in 2018. But some strategists fear he could do more harm than good for GOP candidates.

Meanwhile, the president expressed little interest in going on the type of road show that Bennett and other supporters recommended.

“I don't think I'm going to have to travel too much to sell it,” Trump said of the tax bill after signing it on Friday. “I think it's selling itself.”

Other Republicans believe it is in the party’s best interest for Trump to stay at home altogether.

The president’s freewheeling, raucous political rallies are beloved by his supporters, but his tendency to stray off message have resulted in self-inflicted wounds.

“The best thing this administration can do is stay out of its own way,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye. “Every week, [their] accomplishments, like a positive jobs report, gets overshadowed by the latest self-created outrage du jour.”

That dynamic was on display Saturday, when Trump launched a Twitter attack on FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for his handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Shontel Brown gaining ground against Nina Turner in Ohio: poll Biden hits trail for McAuliffe in test of his political brand MORE email investigation.

Diversions like that is why White House staff did not want to hold a traditional, end-of-year news conference before the president left for Florida to spend the holidays, according to one official.

Past presidents have used that event to tout their accomplishments and set their agenda for the following year.

“You have to wonder how differently this presidency would be judged if someone deleted President Trump’s Twitter account on his first day in office,” said Ryan Williams, a former adviser to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

If Trump continues to make “unforced errors and missteps,” Williams argued, “it’s going to put our majority at risk.”

“If we do lose one or both houses of Congress, it will make his life miserable,” he added.

Democratic control of Congress could heighten the danger for Trump in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, which is expected to extend well into 2018 despite the hopeful outlook of the president’s legal team.

Committee chairmen could accelerate congressional investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, or even begin impeachment proceedings, depending on the severity of their findings.