Trump, GOP make peace after tax win — but will it last?

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE was all smiles on Wednesday as he welcomed congressional Republicans to the White House to celebrate the shared victory on taxes.

Trump heaped praise on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.), who he harshly criticized during the failed ObamaCare repeal effort, and gave a prominent spot near the podium to Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Nev.), who’s considered the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year.

Trump himself said the passage of the tax bill made it easier for all of the Republicans to be in a good mood.


“We got together and we worked very hard, didn't we?” Trump said from the South Lawn of the White House. “Seems like it was a lot of fun. It’s always fun when you win. If you work hard and lose, that's not acceptable.”

But it's unclear whether the Wednesday reverie will carry over into 2018, especially as the party heads for midterm elections where the House and Senate could be at risk.

Trump has clashed with several GOP senators in recent month, including Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (Ariz.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama MORE (Tenn.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Mark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Prominent conservatives question Jerry Falwell Jr. vacation photo MORE (Ariz.). Corker, a Trump surrogate-turned-critic who announced his retirement in September, ended up getting on board with tax legislation in the end. But Flake, who has publicly sparred with Trump and is also retiring from Congress, skipped the White House event despite voting for the bill.

Some vulnerable Republicans may feel pressure to distance themselves from Trump in 2018, given his low approval ratings. But that could be a risky bet, since they will also need the support of the GOP base to survive primary challenges and triumph in November.

That puts Heller in a particularly tricky spot as he looks to navigate a contentious primary and competitive general election in Nevada, a state that seems to be trending toward the Democrats.

When it comes to the primary, Heller’s center-stage spot at the White House is good news for the Nevada Republican as a way to prove to the base that he’ll work with the president on big-ticket legislative items.


Heller has had a rocky relationship with Trump that goes back to the 2016 election. He was critical of Trump as a presidential candidate and, during Trump’s first year in office, the two clashed during the unsuccessful ObamaCare repeal push.

At a meeting in the White House, Trump called out Heller — who was sitting next to him — for not getting on board with the initial repeal bill. A pro-Trump outside group threatened to run ads against Heller and later ended up pulling them when the Nevada senator ultimately voted for the legislation.

Heller seemed to have gotten back into Trump’s good graces by pushing a later ObamaCare repeal bill alongside Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (R-S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility On The Money: GDP shrinks by record amount in second quarter amid virus lockdowns | Jobless claims rise for second straight week | McConnell tees up fight on unemployment benefits MORE (R-La.).

Support for Trump could be critical for Heller’s chances in the GOP primary, where he’ll need to convince voters that he’s sincerely embracing the president. And even if the president doesn’t endorse him, Heller will need to at least make sure that Trump isn’t actively working against him.

Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who’s vowed to go to “war” with McConnell and his allies, is expected to go to bat for Heller’s GOP primary rival Danny Tarkanian, who has unsuccessfully run for office several times and lost a close Nevada House race in 2016.

Tarkanian has played up his support for Trump and has called on Heller to sign a pledge to oppose McConnell remaining as majority leader.

But Heller’s been loudly trumpeting his role in writing and passing the GOP’s tax overhaul. While some strategists believe Heller’s conflict with Trump in 2016 could still hurt him, passage of the tax bill could be a boon for him in the June 12 primary.

“His first objective is to win the primary, so in terms of accomplishing that goal, this is very helpful. It’s getting something done and having a shared accomplishment with the president that he can tout in the primary,” said GOP strategist Brian Seitchik, who worked on Tarkanian’s 2010 Senate bid but isn’t currently working on either campaign.

“It’s hard to really say certainly where the relationship with the president is headed. I would say today it’s probably all smiles and sunshine.”

But if Heller wins the primary, his association with Trump could go from an asset to a liability.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Kanye West 'not denying' his campaign seeks to damage Biden MORE won Nevada in 2016, so Heller’s support for Trump could cost him more moderate and independent voters, especially if the president’s approval numbers are still underwater by 2018. He’s also likely to have a tough Democratic opponent, with Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee Democrats call for McConnell to bring Voting Rights Act to floor in honor of Lewis MORE (Nev.) favored to win her party’s primary.

Photos of Heller standing directly behind Trump could be a double-edged sword as Democrats continue to link the Nevada Republican to the president in a state where he lost by more than 2 points. And the party plans to weaponize the tax overhaul, as well as ObamaCare repeal, against him.


“This tax plan was never about bringing relief to the working families and small businesses who need it most — it was about pandering to Republican primary voters and sucking up to billionaire mega-donors,” Nevada Democratic Party chair William McCurdy II said after the bill passed. “Nevadans will remember Senator Heller’s unwavering support for this shameful tax bill in 2018.”

While it’s still unclear if Trump will be a factor in every 2018 race or continue to mend fences with Senate Republicans, the president and his allies appear to be going to bat for other GOP incumbents who could face tough intraparty battles.

The 45 Committee, a pro-Trump outside group, ran a six-figure ad buy touting Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack MORE (R-Miss.) for supporting tax reform. The group was founded by GOP mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and Todd Ricketts to help support the president’s agenda.

Unlike Heller, Wicker is up for reelection in 2018 in a safe red seat, but he could also face a primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who came close to unseating Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranEspy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid MORE (R-Miss.) in 2014.

Bannon has also been eyeing Mississippi’s primary and pushing McDaniel to run. But Trump has reportedly vowed to back Wicker, and support from his allied groups could convince McDaniel to seek another higher office since he’s also considering a run for lieutenant governor.

Trump’s support for Senate incumbents could put him at odds with Bannon, but help neutralize primary battles that could threaten the GOP’s slim Senate majority. And strategists believe lawmakers who demonstrate that they stand by Trump will reap the benefits of winning over his base.

“I think folks who have a record of standing by the president will be rewarded by the president’s supporters,” Seitchik said.