The Memo: Trump chats up media ahead of midterms

The Memo: Trump chats up media ahead of midterms
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE is engaging more with the traditional media, in venues large and small, as the midterm elections loom.

But the dangers of the president placing himself front and center in the campaign were on display Tuesday morning when he mocked adult-film actress Stormy Daniels as “Horseface” in a tweet.

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The tweet sparked yet another firestorm that even some Republicans said was evidence of Trump’s capacity to hurt rather than help the party’s candidates in November.

“I don’t know how it benefits any Republican candidate to be talking about one of the president’s affairs with a porn star,” said GOP strategist Rick Tyler, a frequent Trump critic. “I’m trying to think of the district where that message helps, and I’m coming up short.”

The Daniels furor was doubly frustrating to some Republicans because the president has stayed mostly on message — even while retaining his usual combative tone — as his campaign schedule has accelerated.

Trump has held numerous rallies, sat for TV interviews and proven willing to entertain reporters’ questions at length in less structured “gaggles.”

He spoke with Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview broadcast on Sunday, and he appeared on Trish Regan’s Fox Business Network show on Tuesday evening.

On Saturday, Trump took a significant number of questions during an Oval Office meeting with recently released pastor Andrew Brunson, then did so again while walking to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House an hour later.

He stopped to talk with reporters once again on the South Lawn on Monday morning.

Right now, the president’s loquaciousness knows few bounds. Last week, he held a 33-minute off-the-record conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One. Snippets of that conversation were later put on the record.

It’s all a far cry from the usual complaint from the media that the administration is inaccessible.

While official White House briefings have slowed to a trickle — there have been just two televised briefings since the start of September — the president is unusually chatty with reporters whom he has in the past derided as “fake news."

“The president is always the administration’s best messenger and it’s great for the American people to hear directly from him,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday in an email to The Hill, the day before Trump tweeted about Daniels.

Other supporters of the president assert that Trump has to make his case as vigorously as possible, given that his leadership style and job performance will be central issues in the Nov. 6 elections.

“The president understands that everything is on the line. So instead of trying to remove himself from a story on how well or poorly the midterm elections go, he is acknowledging that he will have the most dominant impact,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a strong Trump backer. “If that’s the case, he might as well do everything he can.”

Trump has also enjoyed a strong stretch of positive news recently.

In addition to Brunson’s release — a cause célèbre for evangelical voters — Trump has seen Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE confirmed to the Supreme Court and an agreement in principle on a renegotiated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In addition, the economy continues to hum along.

“The left knows that the only way to stop him is to make sure their allies in the mainstream media continue to attack him, and say the White House is in chaos and the president is ill-prepared,” said David Bossie, who served as deputy campaign manager on Trump’s 2016 campaign. “All of that is fake news, and the left and their media allies continue to try to feed the American people.”

Asked whether Trump’s new willingness to speak with the media could be an antidote to that alleged bias, Bossie responded, “That’s what he hopes.”

Republicans have begun to feel less pessimistic about November following the controversy over Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Conservatives believe Democrats overreached in their opposition to the judge. There is new energy among their voters, they claim.

The president has repeatedly — at rallies as well as in remarks to the media — hit the Democrats for behaving like a “mob” toward Kavanaugh.

“This is about keeping Republicans motivated until the election," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist who worked on the confirmation process for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But even some supporters note the liabilities that Trump can also bring when he veers into other areas.

Speaking on Monday, Brad Blakeman — a veteran of the George W. Bush White House and a supporter of the president — said Trump’s willingness to engage the media was “all about the midterms.”

On a good day, he said, Trump could drive the news agenda. But, he added, “the downside is him not being on-message, and then you have a news cycle that has been hijacked.”

Peter Wehner, a Trump critic who served in the administrations of the prior three Republican presidents, acknowledged that the electoral calculations were complex.

Every controversy seems to bring even more ardor from Trump’s most fervent supporters, even as it has the capacity to turn off moderate voters, Wehner said. But, he noted, there was no chance of Trump changing, regardless of how his approach shakes out.

“If you’re a candidate in rural Louisiana, maybe it helps. If you are in Virginia’s 10th District — Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers GOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying MORE’s district — it probably hurts,” Wehner said, referring to one of the most endangered GOP members of Congress.

“I don’t know what the net effect politically is going to be,” Wehner added. “But he is getting more comfortable in the job — and he thinks the best advocate for his cause is him.”

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