Trump Is Sticking To His Playbook To Win The Midterms His approval numbers, the economy — even the Russia probe — could all help Trump boost the GOP. But some in the White House worry Republicans in Congress don't understand the headwinds 2018 brings.
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Trump Is Sticking To His Playbook To Win The Midterms

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Trump Is Sticking To His Playbook To Win The Midterms

Trump Is Sticking To His Playbook To Win The Midterms

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Republican Party heading into this fall has a president who loves to campaign. President Trump is holding a lot of big rallies, and he does have a larger playbook to follow that his advisers think can keep the GOP in power. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Every midterm is a referendum on the party that controls Congress. And if that party also has the White House, it's a referendum on the president too, says Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: For Democrats, Donald Trump's name functionally is on the ballot. Those voters are fired up and motivated to turn out against the president. But it remains to be seen if Republicans match that enthusiasm on their side with Donald Trump not up for election this year.

LIASSON: This is the same problem that previous presidents have faced. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all lost control of one or both houses of Congress in midterm elections. I asked Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, who still advises the president, what Trump thinks this midterm is all about.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: It's a very simple question - are you and your family better off today than you were two years ago? The indicators say that if the midterm elections are about the direction of the country, Donald Trump wins.

LIASSON: Donald Trump wins. Actually, Donald Trump is not on the ballot, but as Lewandowski suggests, the president takes this midterm personally. And although Trump has famously discarded a lot of political traditions, he's approaching the November election in a remarkably conventional way. Just like his predecessors, when Trump is on the campaign trail, he tries to motivate his base.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And all of the great momentum that we're having as a country on jobs, on safety, on security, on our military, it's all at stake in November.

LIASSON: He attacks his Democratic opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Nancy Pelosi and her gang...

(BOOING)

TRUMP: ...They've got to be voted out of office. They've got to be voted out of office.

LIASSON: But sometimes, he makes it all about him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: But we have to keep the House because if you listen to Maxine Waters...

(BOOING)

TRUMP: ...She goes around saying, we will impeach him, we will impeach him.

LIASSON: The threat of impeachment, which Democrats are working hard not to run on, could actually be helping the president energize his core supporters. As the president's poll numbers rise and the big generic ballot advantage the Democrats once had shrinks, polls also show voters souring on the Russia investigation, says Kristen Anderson.

ANDERSON: It's not just for Republicans. Even independents are now saying this investigation seems like it's gone on for a while. Let's wrap this up. Similarly, I think there's a reason why Republicans are much more eager to talk about the specter of impeachment. And it's because those voters in the middle, even if they are not in love with everything the president says or tweets, they don't want to see him thrown out of office.

LIASSON: But mostly voters don't care about the Russia investigation, and that's why Republicans say they'd prefer the president stick to the talking points about the economy and the Republican tax cuts. Corry Bliss runs the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican House leadership super PAC.

CORRY BLISS: Ensuring that the base turns out and motivating the base is very important. But the most important issue is always going to be jobs and the economy. So anything he can do to sell that is helpful to anything we can do.

LIASSON: But sometimes the president doesn't want to talk about tax cuts. At a tax reform event in West Virginia recently, he literally threw his prepared remarks on taxes up in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Now, I'm reading off the first paragraph. I said this is boring. Come on.

LIASSON: And sometimes, like at a fundraiser on Tuesday night, he goes way off message, even when he's joking.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: So your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016, although I'm not sure I really believe that, but you know.

ANDERSON: Donald Trump makes things more complicated for Republicans because they want to focus on the extent to which people have seen personal benefits from tax reform. So it's tough for some of these candidates to find a way to cut through the noise.

LIASSON: If Republican candidates want the president to focus on the economy, the president's advisers want Republican candidates to focus on their races. White House political director Bill Stepien says the president plans to work his heart out raising money and campaigning for his party, just like a typical president in a midterm election. And the president wants to make sure Republican members of Congress understand they should be running as if their political lives depend on it.

BILL STEPIEN: The president does, and he hopes others in his party do - you really don't understand how hard a midterm election is until you've been through it before. And a good many Republicans were elected in 2010 and 2014 when the opposite challenges were facing the party when in fact there weren't challenges at all.

LIASSON: This year, Republicans have plenty of challenges, although it's not clear yet how big a blue wave Republicans will face in November or how much President Trump will be able to do to shield them from the impact. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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