After last year’s campaign, Donald Trump took the highly unusual step of launching a tour, hosting a series of rallies in celebration of himself. After taking office, the practice didn’t stop: the president still periodically visits red states to bask in supporters’ praise at campaign-style rallies.
Friday night, however, offered something new and different: Trump headlined a big public rally, not for himself, but for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) of Alabama, whose primary runoff is tomorrow. The event offered the first real look at the president playing a role he’s unaccustomed to: that of a campaign cheerleader for a Republican ally worried about an election.
For GOP officials, this should matter a great deal. After all, Trump has spent months telling congressional Republicans not only to support his priorities, but also that his loyal allies can count on him to help with their campaigns.
So, how’d that work out for Luther Strange? Consider this excerpt from the transcript, when the president explained his thinking on the Alabama race:
“I might have made a mistake [in backing Strange] and I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake. Because, you know, here’s a story: if Luther doesn’t win, they’re not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They’re going to say, ‘Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line. It is a terrible, terrible moment for Trump. This is total embarrassment.’ I mean, these are bad people.
“And by the way, both good men, both good men. And you know what? And I told Luther, I have to say this, if his opponent wins, I’m going to be here campaigning like hell for him.”
Oh. So the president has endorsed Strange, but he’s not sure if that was the right move; Trump is principally concerned about his own image; and if Strange loses the primary runoff, the president will enthusiastically back his rival in the general election.
Strange, of course, was on hand for all of this – wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
Assuming Trump hasn’t been forced from office by next fall, this is what GOP incumbents and candidates have to look forward to when the president comes to town to “help” your campaign. Republicans feeling anxious about the 2018 midterms probably aren’t feeling a whole lot of relief right now.
* Postscript: Ahead of a June special election in Georgia, Trump traveled to the district to give Karen Handel a hand. But while he helped the Georgia Republican raise money, the president did not hold a rally on her behalf.