As the 2018 elections continue to unfold, Republican officials at every level are concerned that Democrats have an edge in voter enthusiasm. The GOP base may have been fully engaged in 2016, helping put Donald Trump in the White House, but the party in power routinely sees a drop off in its first midterm cycle.
One of the president’s political goals, therefore, is to make the case to Republican voters that turning out in 2018 matters just as much as it did two years ago. Indeed, that was the message the president’s speechwriters explicitly included in Trump’s pitch to social conservatives last night.
Imagine their disappointment when the president rejected the argument moments after making it.
In a speech before the annual gala hosted by Susan B. Anthony List, an influential group that opposes abortion rights, Trump ramped up his campaigner-in-chief persona to try to energize conservatives who were vital to his victory in 2016 and will be critical again to keeping Congress in GOP hands this year.
Even if he did muddle his message – at least, for a moment.
“Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016,” Trump said, adding: “Although I’m not sure I really believe that. I don’t know who the hell wrote that line.”
Watching the video of his remarks, it’s clear that the president read the first part of that quote from his trusted teleprompter, but ad-libbed the rest. In other words, Trump was supposed to tell these far-right voters that the midterms were every bit as important as the presidential election, but after hearing the words others wrote for him, the president quickly rejected his own rhetoric.
To be sure, it was a fairly lighthearted moment, which generated laughter from the audience. But it was also a moment of genuine candor for Trump: he cares about helping Republicans, but not nearly as much as he cares about helping himself.
The president denounced his own argument the moment he said it aloud because, in Trump’s mind, anything that might detract from his own glory is necessarily wrong.
For GOP congressional candidates, it was a reminder that this president will be there for them, but only insofar as Trump sees their ambitions as beneficial to him personally.