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The Memo: Trump allies want to turn midterms into 'impeachment referendum'

Influential figures close to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate GOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Gorbachev calls Trump's withdrawal from arms treaty 'a mistake' MORE want to make the midterm elections a referendum on his performance — and on his possible impeachment.

The people advancing this view are mostly veterans of the 2016 campaign, including Trump’s first campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiTrump and son signal support for McCarthy as next Speaker The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested Bannon seeks to boost Republican turnout in midterms with new film MORE, former deputy campaign manager David Bossie and Trump’s erstwhile chief strategist Stephen Bannon, The Hill has learned.

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Democratic enthusiasm in the elections is likely to be sky-high, given the broad liberal antipathy to the president. The best way to counteract that, the cadre of loyalists believe, is to make the stakes high enough to draw hordes of conservative voters to the polls.

If those voters believe Democrats want to throw Trump out of office — the most dramatic negation of the 2016 result imaginable — they might rally to his side.

Lewandowski and Bossie traveled with Trump to Michigan for a rally on Saturday evening. Lewandowski declared that Michigan was “Trump country.” 

Trump paid tribute to Lewandowski’s strategic abilities from the stage  — “He only ran one campaign and he won, so he’s one for one” — before going on to make a version of the argument that his former campaign manager and others are said to be urging on him. 

“We have to keep the House because if we listen to Maxine Waters, she’s going around saying, ‘We will impeach him,’ ” Trump said, referring to the California Democratic congresswoman who has frequently promised to try to remove him from office.

At first glance, it might seem odd that a figure so exuberantly confident as Trump is raising the specter of his own impeachment. But some of his most fervent backers insist that it makes perfect electoral sense.

“The greatest driver in politics is the fear of a loss,” said Andy Surabian, a former special assistant to the president and deputy White House strategist. “And there is no bigger potential loss for Republican voters to be fearful of than the loss of Trump as president. That’s what a Democrat-controlled House could bring about through impeachment.”

Another GOP operative added, "The old campaign hands all agree that the GOP must put Trump ‘on the ballot.’" But Establishment Republicans are in full panic.”

The reasons for their anxiety are clear enough. 

They fear that Trump, whose approval ratings remain low, will be a millstone around the necks of Republican candidates. 

They worry about his propensity to create media firestorms on a near-daily basis. 

And they think that both those factor will combine to “nationalize” the election, to the detriment of GOP lawmakers who might otherwise be able to run on their records of delivering on local priorities.

Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee (RNC), drew attention to the high number of GOP retirements this year — a phenomenon he compared with people evacuating in advance of a hurricane.

Heye added that, when he was fighting the 2010 campaign within the RNC, he and his colleagues thought the “magic number” that would allow them to win the House back would be an approval rating for then-President Obama of 46 percent or lower. 

On Monday afternoon, Trump’s job approval in the RealClearPolitics polling average stood at 42.9 percent.

“If Trump won a district or state handily, that is obviously a different calculus,” Heye said. “But in the purple states or swing districts, it is very hard to be successful.”

Conversely, however, there are some Democrats who seem to share the basic analysis of the Lewandowski–Bossie–Bannon camp, especially when it comes to threats of impeachment. 

Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Major overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE (Nev.) last week told NBC News’s Heidi Pryzbyla that he wanted liberals who are pushing impeachment to “stop it.”

“I’ve been through impeachment and they’re not pleasant,” Reid said. “And the less we talk about impeachment, the better off we are.”

Current Democratic leaders in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Ex-lawmaker urges Americans to publicly confront officials Pelosi heckled by Miami Republicans, Proud Boys at campaign event MORE (Calif.), have also displayed little enthusiasm for an impeachment effort.

Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told The Hill that they were right.

“The thing that Democrats have going for them right now is that the Republican electorate is not excited. But the best way to excite them is to go after them. Impeachment they will see as really going after them,” Sheinkopf said.

“The whole trick for Democrats is to avoid exciting Republicans,” he added. “Excite them at your own risk!”

It is precisely that sense of excitement that some in Trump’s orbit are trying to create.

A full-bore position of support for the president was the only real way forward, Surabian argued.

“The idea that Republicans in D.C. could or should try to separate President Trump from the midterms — that’s happy talk, it’s not reality,” he said.

“In a lot of ways, 2018 is going to be a referendum on the president,” he added. “You can either run away from that and split the party in half, or embrace it and use it to energize the party.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.