The Memo: Trump fuels GOP’s midterm momentum

President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE is hitting the same fiery rhetorical notes that helped get him elected in 2016 — and it might just be working, with the midterm elections two weeks away.

At rallies, Trump has blasted the Democratic Party as a “mob” and “the party of crime”; has suggested, without evidence, that members of a migrant caravan coming toward the United States from Honduras are being paid; and has called for more money for his proposed southern border wall.


On Monday evening, during a raucous rally in Houston, he declared, "You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? ... Use that word."

The tactics have sparked outrage among his opponents, but Trump’s job approval rating has ticked up to an all-time high in one major poll and several key Senate races have moved in the GOP’s favor.

Allies are quick to give him all the credit.

Trump is “on fire on the campaign trail,” his deposed chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, told The Hill.

“We are showing unity of purpose and the Democrats are not,” contended Bannon, who spoke with The Hill from Flagstaff, Ariz., where he had been meeting grass-roots activists.

Bannon, who was headed to Staten Island, N.Y., as part of his own efforts to gin up enthusiasm for the president and his party, said Trump and the GOP are benefitting from a disciplined messaging plan.

“Everybody on our side is talking about House and Senate races to the exclusion of everything else,” he said. “Compare that to what the Democrats are doing: Cory BookerCory BookerCongress can make progress on fighting emissions with Zero Food Waste Act Scott: 'There is hope' for police reform bill Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law MORE is doing his own campaign thing in Iowa. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE is putting out her DNA test. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTo break the corporate tax logjam, tax overinflated CEO pay Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Grassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa MORE is acting like Hamlet about whether or not is he going to run. And 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 and Bill are going on a speaking tour.”

A new NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll released over the weekend showed Trump’s approval rating at 47 percent, the highest rating he has recorded in that poll.

But things aren’t all rosy for Democrats, and skeptics think Trump’s closing arguments could hurt his party with key parts of the electorate.

Nonwhite voters remain resoundingly opposed to Trump, and the president is also much more unpopular with female voters than among men.

One recent poll from ABC News and The Washington Post gave him a net approval rating of plus 3 points among men but minus 29 points among women. The same survey showed him at minus 1 point with non-college educated white women but minus 21 points with their college-educated counterparts.

Those results tracked closely with a Fox News poll that showed him positive 13 points with men but minus 20 points with women, and positive 3 points with non-college educated white women but minus 21 points with white women with degrees.

It’s the kind of evidence that makes Democrats believe Trump to be, at best, a double-edged sword for the GOP.

“The reality is that he definitely energizes his base support,” Democratic strategist Joe Trippi acknowledged. “On the other hand, younger Republicans, college-educated Republicans, they really don’t like this divisive side of him.”

Referring to a recent Trump jab aimed at adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, Trippi added, “I don’t see how him calling someone ‘Horseface' helps a Republican candidate who’s losing women because of that side of [Trump].”

That said, most polls show Trump with high approval numbers among Republican voters, often around 90 percent.

Trump’s rhetoric on the immigration issue could also have the capacity to be politically helpful even as it earns opprobrium from Democrats.

On Monday, Trump encouraged his followers in a tweet to “blame the Democrats” for the migrant caravan, now about 7,000-strong. Another tweet threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in response to the caravan’s progress. 

Most controversially, he also asserted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with asylum-seekers — a claim that opponents saw as a borderline-racist dog whistle and for which the president supplied no evidence.

But Trump loyalists say that is not the full story.

“There’s no doubt [immigration] goes to what they criticize him for: zero tolerance,” Bannon said. “His thing is southern border security and national sovereignty. Nothing galvanizes the Trump base more than immigration.”

Regarding the images of the migrant caravan making its way northward, Bannon added that although the situation was "a human tragedy of biblical proportions," it was also true that “nothing could reinforce the president’s message more dramatically.”

Other factors may well be brightening the electoral landscape for the GOP — among them, an improving economy, a Republican base increasingly engaged with the midterms and a forceful response from conservative voters to what they deem to be unfair treatment of new Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law On The Money: Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' | Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag MORE during his confirmation process.

The economy, in particular, could be vital. 

“At some point in time, given people’s focus on the economy, it is not necessarily a surprise that — whoever is president — the job approval is going to improve along with it,” said GOP pollster David Winston.

Winston said the centrality of the economy made it essential, from a Republican perspective, for Trump to show discipline with his message.

“If he can keep the command focus on jobs, the economy and wages — and as a result of that you have large-scale media discussion of where the economy is — that’s very helpful,” he said. “But if there is a meandering in terms of topics, then that makes things more complicated.”

But others were more adamant that Trump, for all his complexity, may be the figure the GOP needs right now as the final sprint to Election Day begins.

“If you need Trump voters to vote, there’s no better person to ask them than Donald Trump himself,” said Republican pollster and focus group expert Frank Luntz.

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