The Memo: Trump roars into rally season

The Memo: Trump roars into rally season
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE is hitting the campaign trail in earnest, and that could carry dangers as well as benefits for the Republicans he is trying to get elected.

Trump has held two rallies this week already — in Florida and Pennsylvania — and he will travel to Ohio for a third event on Saturday, to support the GOP candidate in a special election set for next Tuesday.

In a recent radio interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said he would be campaigning “six or seven days a week” during the final two months before the midterms.

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Trump loyalists insist that he can rev up the GOP base like no one else, and that his presence is essential to counteract the high turnout that almost everyone expects among Democratic voters.

“We have to make sure that the Republican Party remains motivated for the 2018 election cycle,” said Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiOvernight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Zinke, Lewandowski join Trump veterans’ lobbying firm Trump campaign spent nearly 0K of donor money on law firm representing Kushner MORE, Trump’s original campaign manager in 2016 and now a senior strategist for Vice President Pence’s political action committee. 

“If Republicans stay home because their candidates are not on the Trump agenda, or they don’t support them, then there will be success for Democratic candidates.”

Lewandowski noted that, for all the polls showing Trump’s polarizing nature, he remains emphatically popular among the GOP grass roots. Several polls show Trump with approval ratings of around 90 percent approval with Republican voters.  

But there are other, more skeptical voices within the party as well.

Ryan Williams, who was a spokesman for Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union For 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love Trump religious adviser calls anti-Trump evangelicals 'spineless morons' MORE during his 2012 presidential bid, did not dispute Trump’s ability to intensify support among the Republican base. But, he said, there is also a worry that Trump can “sour” independent voters on the GOP cause, especially in statewide elections or in competitive House districts.

Even though Trump’s approval rating has ticked up modestly in recent weeks, it is still uncomfortably low from a Republican perspective. 

On Saturday morning, he was at 43.1 percent approval and 52.9 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics polling average.

Williams also noted that Trump’s unorthodox campaigning style has both benefits and liabilities. A Trump rally can turn out big crowds, owing to the president’s unpredictability and showmanship.

But that same unpredictability can also overshadow the candidate whom he is supposedly there to help.

Williams noted one famous example in Alabama when — admittedly, in a GOP primary rather than a general election — Trump came to campaign for incumbent Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeDomestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Five things to watch in Mississippi Senate race MORE

Trump’s speech made no broad coherent case for Strange, beyond noting his loyalty to the president. Trump also implied that it would not be a heinous act for voters to back the primary opponent who ultimately defeated Strange, Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRepublican state official faces pushback for comments on Sinema's attire Hillicon Valley: Dem blasts groups behind Senate campaign disinformation effort | FCC chief declines to give briefing on location-data sales | Ocasio-Cortez tops lawmakers on social media | Trump officials to ease drone rules Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook MORE

Meanwhile, the main news out of the speech was nothing to do with the primary. The headlines were dominated by a fierce Trump attack on NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

“He can distract and he can also overshadow,” said Williams, regarding the president. “He tends to make events about him rather than the candidate. That has the potential to be somewhat of a wildcard. He can say things that might distract from the overall message of the campaign.”

Trump loyalists note that the midterms include several races where the president seems likely to be a relatively uncomplicated positive for Republican candidates. In the Senate, several Democrats are defending seats in states that Trump carried by wide margins in 2016.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D) is trying to retain her seat in a state where Trump racked up a 36-point win over Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Sarah Sanders says she was interviewed by Mueller's office Trump: I believe Obama would have gone to war with North Korea MORE

In Montana, fellow Democratic Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Border talks stall as another shutdown looms Mulvaney: Government shutdown on the table MORE is trying to do the same in a state Trump won by 20 points.

“If someone says that it doesn’t matter how many times he is going to go to North Dakota or Montana, he is not going to change the outcome — well, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about,” said Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to the Trump 2016 campaign. 

Trump’s mere presence is going to ensure “some very enthusiastic Republican voters,” Bennett added.

Democrats, for the most part, express no great concern about Trump hitting the campaign trail. Many do not question his ability to spike the intensity of his base; they simply think he produces an equal but opposite reaction galvanizing Democrats.

They also note that it is tough to make blanket statements about Trump’s effectiveness since so much hinges on the ideological and demographic profile of each particular race.

“He’s useful in some areas but not in others,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. 

Beyond Trump’s impact on committed Democrats and Republicans, he added, there is also some middle ground still to fight for.

“The question is what non-party-identifiers will do in a general election. The answer is we don’t know, because they tend to vote Republican more often than not, but Trump is on the wrong side of a lot of the issues that resonate with independent voters: health care, international peace.”

Whatever the strategists on either side say, though, there is no question that Trump is plowing full steam ahead. 

And even his most emphatic backers acknowledge there is a lot at stake.

“This will be the first real test of support for this president,” said Lewandowski.

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