LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
President Trump has made these midterm elections all about him. And voters are about to deliver a verdict. The president has been in power for almost two years, and the Republican Party has had control of both houses of Congress. And yet the president's message to voters is about fear of migrants and of the Democrats. To understand why, we are joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So President Trump has been hitting the stump, making a final push for Republican Party candidates. Is this the kind of messaging where Republican candidates wanted to be?
LIASSON: Not originally. Republicans thought that they would run on the economy, which is very, very good. They'd run on their tax cuts. But the tax cuts got less and less popular as time went on. So the president has a message for his base. He thinks this is an election that will be all about the base, not about persuasion. And in rallies over the weekend, in the face of the best economic news any president would want on the eve of an election - you had wages up, growth up in that report on Friday - he was expressing his belief that the economy was not such a great motivator in his mind. And here's what he said in West Virginia on Friday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They all say, speak about the economy. Speak about the economy. Well, we have the greatest economy in the history of our country.
TRUMP: But, sometimes, it's not as exciting to talk about the economy - right? - because we have a lot of other things to talk about.
LIASSON: And those other things, of course, are immigration, race, crime, this invasion that he says is coming to the southern border. Look. This is not just Trump's closing argument. This was his opening argument when he rode down the escalator in New York and announced his candidacy, and he said that Mexico is sending rapists across the border. So this is the core of everything he's done. It's a kind of us-against-them message, very nativist. And what we're going to find out is whether this is the issue that will motivate voters. It worked for him in 2016. The question is, will it work for him this year when he is not on the ballot? Can he get his supporters to vote for Republican candidates when he's not on the ballot? President Obama couldn't do it. And we'll see if Donald Trump can.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How is President Trump using his control of the government to help Republicans?
LIASSON: In every way he can. Every president does what he can to help his party. He's doing lots of rallies. That's obviously what every president does.
LIASSON: But he's also using his control over policy and government resources. He's sending thousands of troops to the border, perhaps, he says, up to 15,000. That would be more than the soldiers - number of soldiers in Afghanistan. Many former military officials say that's just a gross misuse of the military. It's a political stunt. He's promised a 10 percent middle-class tax cut that would be passed before November. Of course, November is here, and it hasn't been passed.
He's talked about changes to birthright citizenship, changes to the asylum process. So he tries to control the narrative by using every lever of government. And the question is, is he still writing the script? Or will these other events like pipe bombs sent to his critics, the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh by someone who was upset about the caravan - which happens to be the thing that Donald Trump wants people to be upset about - will that overtake the narrative in the closing days?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how is this resonating with voters? You know, we are seeing numbers that early voting has been really high.
LIASSON: Really high. We don't know how it's resonating with voters in terms of the results. We'll know that on Tuesday. But we do know that this election is on track to set records for a midterm - 33 million early votes so far. That's surpassing the entire 2014 midterm voting totals. And in some places, we might get to presidential-year-level turnout.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Extraordinary. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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