The Memo

The Memo: Trump base will be tested in midterms


One question looms larger than any other over the midterm elections: Can President Trump transfer the fervor of the voters who elected him in 2016 to other candidates in his party?

Trump won the presidency by reaching voters that previous GOP nominees could not. But even people within his circle acknowledge there are no guarantees that those voters will come out for Senate and House races, even with Trump at full tilt on the campaign trail urging them to do so.

“The president has done more than anyone else in memory to help his party’s candidates,” said one person familiar with the president’s strategy. “But ultimately it is up to the candidates whose names are on the ballot to make the final case to the people going to the polls in their district.”

Other Republicans acknowledge there is a downside to the president’s prominence on the campaign trail.{mosads}

“We have to play in suburban districts,” said one GOP operative working on the midterms. “The president can certainly motivate the base but he also turns off a huge section.”

This source, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said there were ways in which Trump could be deployed — on robocalls for instance — that could maximize his assets and minimize his liabilities.

“You can ‘micro-target’ him,” the person said.

Trump is expected to make a strong final push for candidates this week, the last sprint before Election Day on Nov. 6.

As of Saturday evening, the only rallies that had been publicly announced are scheduled for Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday and Columbia, Mo., on Thursday. 

Missouri presents Republicans with one of their stronger chances of a pickup opportunity in the Senate. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is facing a strong challenge from Josh Hawley, the state’s Republican attorney general. Polling suggests the race is a dead heat.

“People talk about Indiana, or Missouri, or Minnesota, being a red state. John McCain lost Indiana two presidential cycles ago. He won Missouri by one-tenth of a point,” said Bill Stepien, the White House political director. “The only reason these states are red is because of Trump. These aren’t red states, they are not Republican states. These are Trump states.”

More Trump rallies are expected to be announced elsewhere. CNN also reported on Friday evening that the president might deliver a major speech on immigration in the campaign’s closing days.

An immigration speech would be one more sign that Trump is putting all his chips on a base-first strategy.

More broadly, there is no reason to believe Trump will curb his campaign trail rhetoric, even though his incendiary style has come under renewed scrutiny after bombs were sent to former President Obama, Hillary Clinton and a number of other Democrats and Trump critics last week. The alleged bomber, Cesar Sayoc Jr., appears to be a fervent supporter of the president.

Asked by reporters at the White House on Friday whether he might tone down his language, Trump responded, “I think I’ve been toned down, if you want to know the truth. I could really tone it up. Because, as you know, the media’s been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party.”

Hours later, at a rally in Charlotte, N.C., Trump once again inveighed against “Crooked Hillary.”

For all the ominous drama of the bomb story — and the public debate that it has prompted — it seems unlikely to have a profound impact on the midterms. 

Trump’s base has stood by him through controversies in which he has been a much more central player — from his response to violence in Charlottesville, Va., last year to his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. Responses to the bomb threats have themselves often broken along partisan lines. 

“The news cycle is done by this evening,” said another GOP strategist with ties to the White House on Friday, the day of Sayoc’s arrest. “They caught him too early for it to make a difference in the midterms.”

The political ramifications of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday are difficult to gauge. At least 11 people were killed, but the alleged perpetrator in that case does not appear to have well-defined political views beyond his anti-Semitism.

The president’s approval ratings have been ticking up of late, buoyed by a strong economy as well as achievements that please his supporters, including the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement under a new name.

In tandem, key Senate races have appeared to move the GOP’s way. Operatives for both parties now think the chances of Democrats taking control of the Senate are slim.

Still, Trump is coming off historically low approval ratings. And the outlook for Republicans in the House of Representatives remains perilous.

The RealClearPolitics average on Saturday evening had 44.4 percent of the electorate approving of Trump’s job performance while 52.2. percent disapproved. On the generic ballot, the RealClearPolitics average gave Democrats a 7.6 percent advantage, a sizable edge that has not shifted in a fundamental way for about six weeks. 

That leaves some people skeptical that Trump will really be a panacea for the GOP’s problems.

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who is also a columnist for The Hill, noted that Trump’s approval rating has been lower than it was on Election Day 2016 “for most of his term.” Mellman also argued that voters often “return home” to their traditional political affiliations in the final weeks of a campaign.

“I don’t think he is bringing them [home]. They are coming. It’s not clear it’s because of Trump,” Mellman said.

Trump loyalists argued otherwise.

Barry Bennett, a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, contended that the president could be critical in competitive House districts that he had previously carried. He also noted how Trump’s social media following can amplify the beneficial effects of a presidential visit.

“If you look at the 30 toss-up House districts, there are a lot of them that Trump won by 8, 9, 10 — or more — points, so obviously they are going to do well there,” Bennett said.

Referring to Trump rallies, he added: “It’s not just about the 20,000 people in the room. On social media, you’ll see 200 different streams and a million views. It’s crazy.”

Others, though, insisted that the craziness cuts both ways.

“There aren’t too many races where President Trump will be a deciding factor — at least, not in a positive way,” insisted Mellman.

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

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John McCain

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