Trump’s closing argument frames midterms as a referendum on his White House

CLEVELAND — President Trump launched a final-day campaign blitz on Monday to save the GOP Congress, framing the midterm elections as a referendum on his presidency.

Trump visited three states for three separate rallies on Monday, doing everything he could to motivate his core supporters to vote for GOP lawmakers on Tuesday.

“In a sense, I am on the ticket,” Trump, who has tied the midterm election outcome to his presidency in a more pronounced way than most presidents, told attendees at a rally in Ohio.

“You’ve got to go out and vote,” he said to a vocal crowd of supporters inside a cavernous building at the Cleveland airport.

{mosads}Trump painted the choice before voters in stark terms, saying “a vote for Republicans is a vote to continue our extraordinary prosperity” and that voting for Democrats would bring “a socialist nightmare for our country.” 

He likened the “great electricity” surrounding the midterms to the 2016 election, when he shocked the political world by winning the presidency.

“The midterm elections used to be like boring,” Trump said. “Now it’s like the hottest thing.”

In addition to Ohio, Trump visited Missouri and Indiana in his final campaign push, where Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) are trying to hang on in states easily won by Trump in the last presidential contest.

At each of the stops, Trump invited the state’s Republican Senate candidates on stage: Jim Renacci in Ohio, Mike Braun in Indiana and Josh Hawley in Missouri.

He also brought out a cavalcade of other prominent Republican figures to buoy the crowd. 

His oldest daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, joined the president on stage in all three states to a gushing introduction and thunderous applause.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also appeared at the events in Indiana and Missouri, though both were careful to avoid speaking in their official White House capacities in an effort to skirt federal ethics laws.

Lee Greenwood appeared on stage in person to sing the president’s traditional walk-out music, “God Bless the USA,” in Missouri.

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh introduced the president at the final rally of the campaign, and Trump was joined later on stage in Missouri by Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro.

While all three are unabashed supporters of the president, it’s uncommon for cable anchors to speak at campaign rallies.

The guest appearances were sandwiched by a typical Trump stump speech, including boasts about his administration’s accomplishments and barbs directed at his critics.

The visits underlined Trump’s focus on growing the Senate majority, which would undercut Democratic arguments about a victory in the House being a rebuke of Trump’s presidency while also making it easier for the president to win confirmations over the next two years.

Democrats are generally favored to win back the House majority, which would empower chairmen in the opposition party to subpoena the administration while limiting the White House’s ability to steer legislation through Congress.

Republicans are seen as the favorites in the Senate, thanks in part to a map that is favorable to the GOP in this election.

McCaskill and Donnelly are seen as the most vulnerable Senate Democrats aside from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who is in even greater danger in North Dakota. But Republicans also have pick-up opportunities in a handful of other states, while Democrats have limited opportunities to pick off GOP incumbents.

At each rally, Trump generally refrained from making comments about specific candidates. Instead, he praised each of them in general terms as a “fighter” and attacked their opponents as extreme liberals.

The president focused on his core closing arguments on immigration, where he has stoked fears about border security by pointing to a caravan of immigrants traversing Mexico toward the U.S. border.

The final day of the campaign was dominated in part by controversy surrounding a Trump campaign ad on immigration that aired Sunday night on NBC. The ad links the caravan to Luis Bracamontes, a man convicted of killing two U.S. police officers. It accuses Democrats, inaccurately according to fact-checkers, of seeking to bring people like Bracamontes into the U.S.

CNN had deemed the ad racist and announced it would not air it, and NBC backtracked Monday amid a backlash and said it would not air the advertisement again. Fox News, where coverage of the Trump administration is generally more positive, also said it would not air the ad.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, slammed CNN, NBC News and Facebook over the decision to pull the ad, accusing those groups of standing “with those illegally in this country.”

Trump claimed to not be aware of the ad backlash, but refused to back down, saying his campaign spots “certainly are effective.”

“Well, a lot of things are offensive,” the president told a reporter who asked about the crowd being offensive. “Your questions are offensive a lot of times.”

In Cleveland, Trump accused Democrats of wanting to make America into a dystopian “giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and bloodthirsty MS-13 killers.”

He claimed that Democrats were seeking to attract immigrants to enter the United States illegally so they can vote in elections, repeatedly invoking the caravan.

While the rhetoric has drawn condemnation even from some GOP opponents of Trump, it has delighted his base. One of the president’s biggest applause lines in Cleveland was when he vowed to complete his long-promised wall along the U.S. southern border.

“Build the wall! Build the wall!” chanted the crowd, dotted with red “Make America Great Again” hats and “Keep America Great” signs.

Trump is keeping up a breakneck pace on the campaign trail, with Monday’s rallies capping off an eight-state, 11-stop sprint in the final six days of the campaign.

Trump seems to thrive off raucous crowds who revel in his greatest hits, including the “lock her up” chant against 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and copious shots at the news media.

The president appeared energized as he spent nearly 12 hours on the campaign trail Monday. He left the White House for Ohio shortly after noon Eastern time, and concluded his rally in Missouri a few minutes before midnight.

Republicans have an uphill climb in all three states’ Senate races, with polls favoring Democratic incumbents or showing statistical ties.

Indiana Senate candidate Mike Braun (R) trails Donnelly by less than 1 percentage point, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Trump, on an airport tarmac in Fort Wayne, urged Braun to not let up in the campaign’s closing hours. He also expressed an openness to taking credit or blame for the midterms’ outcome, even as he said each race would depend on the individual candidate.

“It’s really about the candidate, but if they want to give me the credit or the liability, I’ll be willing to take it,” he said.

He said Braun was “right at the top of a great group of candidates.”

“Polls just came out, he’s leading by a little bit, but I don’t want to tell Mike that because maybe he’ll slow up in the last couple of hours,” Trump said. “I know him too well, he’ll never do that. But it’s a great race. Great state. I won it by a lot, Mike is going to have a big victory.”

In Missouri, Republican Josh Hawley leads Sen. McCaskill by less than 1 point.

Trump invited Ohio’s GOP Senate nominee Rep. Jim Renacci on stage in Cleveland and praised him as a “fighter.” Renacci trails Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) by 7.5 percentage points in an average of recent polls.

The president has staked his campaign reputation on a handful of competitive Senate races in states he won in the 2016 election, including Montana, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida and the three states he visited Monday.

While Trump is more popular in those states, his overall approval rating has hovered in the low 40 percent range, raising questions about his overall impact on the ballot heading into Tuesday.

Trump has appeared at times resigned to GOP losses in the House, but on Monday struck a more optimistic note as he departed for a final day of campaigning.

“I think we’re gonna do pretty well,” Trump told reporters as he left for the Ohio rally. “I have never seen — look, you’re covering me — the energy that we have, the energy that this whole party has now, it’s really incredible.”

“Whether it’s the great economy, or the immigration and the strong stand and the very weak stand where they have open borders, which to me means nothing but crime, I don’t know,” he continued. “But I can tell you that there’s a lot of energy.”

—Updated at 11:53 p.m.

Fabian reported from Cleveland; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Cape Girardeau, Mo. Samuels reported from Washington.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Hillary Clinton Indiana Ivanka Trump Jim Renacci Joe Donnelly Kellyanne Conway Missouri Ohio Sherrod Brown

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