WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail, battling once more for an against-the-odds win in an election where he sits center stage.
At fiery rallies – including recent stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida – Trump is reprising the style and rhetoric of his 2016 campaign. Crowds are again chanting for a border wall, jeering Democrats and dismissing the polls and pundits.
At stake is control of the House, where Democrats need to flip 23 seats to capture the speaker’s gavel. In a midterm election, where candidates are generally not well known, it is voters’ views on the president that will likely determine the outcome.
“They’re talking about this blue wave,” Trump said at a rally near Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. “I think it could be a red wave.”
In crowded sports arenas and sweltering high school gyms across the country, Trump is testing messages that will serve as the foundation for his stump speech this fall.
Here’s a look at five ideas Trump is selling voters:
President Trump reacted on Twitter to a CNN interview with LeBron James where the NBA superstar criticized the president.
“Our economic policy can be summed up in three very simple but beautiful words: jobs, jobs, jobs”. – July 5, Great Falls, Montana
More than anything else, this is the message Republicans want Trump to focus on.
Trump always notes the nation’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate during rallies. He calls attention to quarterly GDP growth. He talks about the return of manufacturing jobs. He claims to be overseeing the “best economy in the history of our country.”
Democrats counter that the current economic growth began under President Barack Obama, but all presidents take credit or blame for current economic conditions. And Trump is a good salesman when he’s on message, GOP strategists say.
If Republicans have a quibble it’s that Trump often strays off message. During a rally last week in Ohio, Trump broke off from remarks on the economy to knock the Koch brothers, the GOP donors who recently criticized his trade policies.
In Pennsylvania, he mentioned jobs early but didn’t return to the issue until an hour later, after discussing Russia, immigration and his recent tea with Queen Elizabeth.
“He has a great message with the economy doing so well,” veteran GOP consultant Charlie Gerow said. “But unfortunately he allows it to be blurred by other stuff.”
President Trump appears to change his story about a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that is pivotal to the special counsel’s investigation, tweeting that his son met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer to collect information about his political opponent. (Aug. 6)
“We’re building it. We’re building it. We’re building it.” – Aug. 2, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico remains a potent symbol, and mere mention of immigration leads to chants of “Build That Wall!”
It doesn’t matter that almost no wall has been built 18 months after Trump’s inauguration, or that there’s no clear path to funding the structure. Trump uses Congress’ inaction to blame Democrats for being weak on immigration.
“Bob Casey wants open borders, which means crime,” Trump said, hitting the Pennsylvania Democratic senator during a rally in the Keystone State last week.
“He wants people to pour in, and if they pour in by the millions, that’s, I guess, OK.”
The administration has built about 16 miles of barrier it describes as “steel bollard wall,” a barrier opponents say looks more like a fence. That represents less than 2 percent of the 1,000-mile border wall Trump promised during the campaign.
That has been enough for Trump to claim victory.
“The wall is being built,” Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, said last week. “Why would we ever stop that?”
Voters are at the polls where President Donald Trump’s preferred congressional candidate — and his chief legislative achievement — are about to be tested in battleground Ohio in the season’s final high-stakes special election. (August 7)
Trade war wins
“And thanks to our tariffs, idle factories throughout our nation are roaring back to life.” – July 26, Granite City, Illinois
Republicans on Capitol Hill are nervous Trump’s trade war with China will hit voters in the wallet right around the November election. Trump himself recently recounted exchanges he has had with jittery lawmakers – before dismissing them.
While the president has spent more time explaining his tariffs – a signal he recognizes the potential political fallout – he’s cast it in Trump-versus-the-world terms. That framing plays directly into a narrative from 2016 in which Trump indicated he would call out anyone, including an ally, he viewed as working against U.S. interests.
“This American pride thing really works,” said Rob Gleason, a former Republican Party chairman in Pennsylvania and a Trump supporter. “We had eight years of an apologetic foreign policy; now we have a president who speaks loudly and carries a big stick.”
Tariffs have benefited the steel industry. Farmers hurt by retaliatory barriers have said they’re willing to give Trump a little more time to find a solution. Even Trump’s critics acknowledge something had to be done to counter China’s trade barriers.
For now, tariffs still get applause at Trump’s rallies.
“It’s the same playbook he ran to get elected,” Gleason said. “I think it’s going to help us.”
Don’t believe anything
“And just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” – July 24, Kansas City, Missouri
Criticism of the “fake news” has long been a Trump trademark, and if anything the president has ratcheted up his language. He has also returned to the idea over the past several months that some polls are intended to suppress voter turnout.
“Just stick with us,” the president said in Kansas City last month. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”
Polls show Trump is playing to the crowd with his attacks on the media. More than a quarter of Americans, including nearly half of Republicans, believe the president should have the power to “close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” according to a recent poll by Ipsos.
In terms of political polling, most high-profile surveys have actually pointed to tight contests – a result that would increase turnout rather than suppress it. But the president’s real goal, experts say, is to encourage his supporters to turn out. Democrats were energized by Trump’s election, and the president wants to make sure his voters are, too.
“Voters are going to spend more effort and energy where they think their votes are going to count,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.
“The more people feel like their individual vote will matter,” he said, “the more likely they are to turn out.”
“I’ve also directed the Pentagon to begin the process of creating the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces called the Space Force … so much is happening now in space.” – Aug. 4, Lewis Center, Ohio
When Trump first mentioned his plan to create a sixth branch of the military focused on space in March some thought he might be kidding. Trump himself said during a speech in March that “I was not really serious” when he first raised the idea.
Trump became serious months later, directing the Pentagon in June to “begin the process necessary to establish a space force.” The idea is now a regular applause line at Trump’s political rallies, even as it continues to be heavily debated in Washington.
Military leaders, including Trump’s own secretary of Defense, initially scoffed at the idea. When it comes to political subtext, observers said, that’s the point: “Space force” speaks to the broader idea of Trump pursuing policies spurned by official Washington.
“This is Trump being a master of branding,” said Rick Wilson, a longtime Republican message strategist and Trump critic who recently published a book titled “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”
“It feels … aspirational,” Wilson said. “And it’s kind of a middle finger to the military.”
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