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GOP to Trump: Focus on policy

Republicans are urging President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE to focus on policy — not personality fights — in the final two weeks before the election. 

As the president and several key incumbents trail in the polls, GOP senators are urging him to dial down the personal attacks and focus on his agenda in a last-ditch attempt to appeal to swing voters by emphasizing the policy differences between a potential Trump second term and a Biden administration.

Their pleas come ahead of a final debate between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE this week and as the president has appeared eager to home in on Biden’s son Hunter Biden, a move some GOP senators and strategists warn could backfire.

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Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunGOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Meadows meets with Senate GOP to discuss end-of-year priorities MORE (R-Ind.), asked if Trump had talked enough about policy and his agenda, said “I would hope that he would do that,” pointing to areas like the economy that he believes would be ripe for Trump.

“I think there’s a lot of room to do that. ... Hopefully, we’ll see that on Thursday, because I think there’s a lot you could talk about in terms of what’s been accomplished,” Braun said. “I would hope that he would do that.” 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump doubles down on Section 230 repeal after GOP pushback Congress faces late-year logjam Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, argued that while Trump lets himself be pulled into personality fights, talking about policy could help sway undecided voters.

“There is so much there, there is so much contrast. ... He’s given the base lots of red meat, so they are, I think, sufficiently motivated. I think that you have to prosecute the case against the Democrats to win those people over in the middle that are going to decide this election,” Thune said.

The advice comes as Biden has led Trump both in national polls and in several swing states critical to the race. 

Biden leads Trump by an average of 10 percentage points in national polls, according to FiveThirtyEight. He’s also leading in the RealClearPolitics polling average of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida — which were all won by Trump in 2016.

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Republicans worry a Trump loss could bring down the Senate GOP majority. Republican incumbents trail their Democratic opponents in key races, while several GOP senators also find themselves in closer-than-expected contests in the traditionally red states of Alaska, Kansas and South Carolina.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee MORE (R-Texas) said he believed the election had turned into a personality contest. Republicans have long warned that the election being a referendum on Trump would be disastrous for their party, with the president’s approval rating routinely stuck in the low 40s. 

“I regret — I think if it were a contest of what policies are better to help the economy and help restore our jobs, I think the president would be winning supermajorities, but unfortunately it’s been more of a personality contest,” Cornyn said.

Asked if he thought Trump could still turn the race in a more policy-focused direction, he added: “Every day that goes by it gets harder.”

Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate for the second and final time on Thursday, with “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security” and “Leadership” as the selected topics.

The first debate between Trump and Biden last month was marked by a chaotic atmosphere of crosstalk, personal insults and Trump, at times, sparring with moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden adviser: 'He does not have any concern' about Trump lawsuits Public health expert: Americans no longer acting 'with common purpose' on pandemic Anti-Defamation League criticizes White House appointee 'who has consorted with racists' MORE. The off-the-wheels nature frustrated GOP senators, who are hoping for a significantly different event this week.

Trump is also doing a slew of campaign events and interviews in the final stretch, leaving Republicans worried he will go off-message again and again. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyAlabama Republican becomes third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies MORE (R-Iowa) tweeted at Trump that he should carry around a notecard that included five things that he’s accomplished, what makes him different from Biden and what he will do in a second term.

“Focusing on these simple highlights will help ur msg & only take 5mins then say whatever u want,” Grassley added in the tweet.

Trump has frustrated Senate Republicans by wading into public fights with not only his political enemies but also members of his own administration.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Congress faces late-year logjam The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy MORE (R-Mo.), while attributing the lack of policy in the first debate to both sides, noted that Senate Republicans “have always thought the president should talk more about what he has done and what he’s going to do” rather than “respond to whatever topic comes up.”

Just this week Trump lashed out at Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: CDC urges 'universal' indoor mask use when not at home | Pelosi bullish on COVID-19 relief | Trump largely silent on coronavirus as health officials sound the alarm Fauci warns US has not hit 'Thanksgiving peak' even as cases soar The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Fauci to serve as Biden's chief medical adviser MORE, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, sparking pushback from senior members of the Senate Republican caucus and putting a break between GOP senators and the leader of their party back under the spotlight.

But Republicans believe that by focusing on policy and his agenda, Trump could shore up support among swing voters, which could pay dividends for GOP senators in tough races.

“I would do that because there are so few people who have not made up their mind; many of them might rest on what do you intend to do,” Braun said.

Thune added that the goal for Trump’s campaign “between now and the election is to win over those people who in the end are going to be the deciding votes in this election.”

Trump’s campaign has signaled that it wants to raise Hunter Biden during Thursday night’s debate, including his business dealings in China, to argue that the former vice president is “compromised.” 

GOP senators said while they expected Trump to bring up the issue, they also warned that it had a risk of backfiring if it makes people sympathetic toward the Bidens.

“I’m sure he will,” Thune said about raising Hunter Biden. “But you know, you got to be careful with that, because I think in some ways if you overplay that hand there’s a certain sympathy that people have.”