A week before the midterm elections, Republicans and Democrats’ closing arguments mark a sharp contrast in tone and content as party leaders scramble to turn out voters in the first national referendum on the presidency of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE.
Democrats’ final pitch to voters is largely focusing on the key kitchen-table issues of health care and the economy. Trump and his GOP allies are doubling down on the culture wars.
Republicans are warning of what they say is a dangerous caravan of migrants heading to the southern border, “mobs” of left-wing radicals, and a biased liberal media generating “fake news” stories about Trump.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) is still talking up the Trump tax cuts and the booming economy, asking voters if they are “Better Off Now,” the GOP’s official slogan of the 2018 campaign.
But that positive economic message is being drowned out by Trump’s megaphone. Trump’s scorched-earth tactics are a page from his 2016 playbook, which divided Americans, fired up the conservative base and propelled the reality TV star into the White House.
Trump is hoping he can replicate that surprise victory on Nov. 6 and overcome stiff political headwinds that have been a drag on House Republicans.
The situation in the Senate is different, given a battleground that is advantageous to Republicans. Democrats are defending 10 seats in states won by Trump and appear to be in danger of losing ground to the Senate GOP. Trump’s presence on the campaign trail and his rhetoric, particularly on immigration, may be a factor.
While Trump has waded into several big cultural fights in recent months, he has sought to center his closing argument on his favorite issue of immigration.
Trump announced he was sending up to 1,000 troops to the southern border to help secure it, and the White House floated using executive actions to shut down the border to all Central Americans, including those in the caravan who hope to seek asylum in the U.S. as they flee violence in their home countries.
Even though the caravan is 1,000 miles away, the video images of thousands of migrants trekking through Mexico have proven to be a potent weapon for Republicans in the final days of the campaign.
“As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly encouraging caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to violate our laws and to break into our country,” Trump said at a rally in Wisconsin this week.
“The crisis on the border … is the sole result of Democrat laws and activist Democrat judges that do whatever they want.”
Some endangered House Republicans are taking their cue from the president as he fans the flames of the immigration fight and other hot-button issues to drive GOP voters to the polls.
Newly elected Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) is out with a new ad accusing his Democratic opponent, Danny O’Connor, of wanting to “make Columbus a sanctuary city,” and “[give] illegal immigrants driver’s licenses” and in-state tuition.
And at a recent canvassing event in far north Dallas, vulnerable Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Texas) briefly touched on the economy before ripping Democrats on illegal immigration.
Democrats “want to make 13 million illegals legal in this country overnight — that’s completely against what I’m fighting for,” Sessions told about 50 supporters before they prepared to knock on doors in a leafy suburban neighborhood.
But Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the House GOP’s campaign arm, said Republicans’ focus on immigration isn’t anything new: “We’ve been talking about immigration for a while now. It’s an issue that resonates.”
Out on the campaign trail, Republican lawmakers and officials are also following Trump’s lead as he blasts Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Arizona recount to show Trump's loss by even wider margin Biden criticizes treatment of Haitians as 'embarrassment' The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (Calif.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerLawmakers gear up for spending bill, infrastructure votes Booker: End of police reform negotiations a 'frustrating experience' Sunday shows - All eyes on spending votes MORE (N.J.), who have called on frustrated Americans to confront and protest GOP officials in restaurants, airports and other public places.
“You can’t go to restaurants without [encountering] protesting. The left is getting increasingly violent,” Missy Shorey, chairwoman for the Dallas County Republican Party, said at the Sessions rally.
Democrats, meanwhile, have largely scrapped any focus on social issues in favor of a short list of economic measures they deem more crucial for attracting voters in key battleground districts.
Although they’ve long fought for policies like immigration reform, tougher gun laws and voting rights protections, their “For the People” agenda features just three topics of interest: cutting health-care costs, boosting wages and reining in government corruption.
The themes are similar to those encompassing the messaging campaign that won them the House in 2006, and party leaders think the pared-down list — by avoiding the culture wars — lends them a better chance of picking up the 23 seats they need to seize control of the lower chamber.
“I took them to the victory in 2006,” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Pelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said during a recent CNN forum in New York. “I know how to do this.”
The Republican effort to repeal ObamaCare has given Democrats plenty of ammunition to go after the GOP on health care, and they’ve been particularly vocal in highlighting the price-protections for patients with pre-existing conditions that would have been eliminated if the Republicans’ repeal bill had been enacted.
More recently, Democrats have pounced on comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHow the Democratic Party's campaign strategy is failing America GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis MORE (R-Ky.) forecasting GOP plans to cut spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Pelosi is likening that effort to former President George W. Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security during the 2006 cycle — a push that helped Democrats attract senior voters that year.
“McConnell is giving us a gift,” Pelosi told CNN. “When he was asked about the debt and the deficit, he responded by saying it was because of Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security entitlement that had to be addressed.”
Also absent from national Democrats’ messaging strategy is an overt mention of the president. While their anti-corruption agenda is largely a response to the many scandals dogging Trump and his administration, party leaders have repeatedly urged members to shy away from direct attacks on the president, which could act to energize conservative voters compelled to rush to Trump’s defense.
“I really believe that our candidates don’t have to talk about the president,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the Democrats’ campaign arm, told reporters at a Bloomberg roundtable in Washington. “I’ve said all along that he’s going to speak for us, right? — he’s going to do all the talking.”
Lisa Hagen contributed reporting from Dallas. Juliegrace Brufke also contributed.