As 2018 got underway, Donald Trump told Reuters he was prepared to spend “probably four or five days a week” helping Republican candidates ahead of this year’s midterm elections. With 99 days remaining until Election Day, the president has now pushed that total a little higher.
“I am going to work very hard,” Mr. Trump said during the interview [with Fox’s Sean Hannity]. “I’ll go six or seven days a week when we’re 60 days out, and I will be campaigning for all of these great people that do have a difficult race, and we think we’re going to bring them over the line.”
Mr. Trump said he had instructed John F. Kelly, his chief of staff, and others on his team to compile a list of about two dozen of the most hotly contested races in the country so he could use the bully pulpit to promote the Republicans running in them.
“Give me the top 25 congresspeople that are, you know, could go either way, and I want to go out and campaign for those people,” Mr. Trump said.
As a rule, the president’s claims about his future plans are largely useless – he’s just not a reliable source of information – but for the sake of conversation, let’s say Trump is telling the truth about his intentions. Imagine if, sometime in September, the president’s focus on the midterms became so intense, he told his aides to schedule campaign events for him literally every day for two months.
The question then becomes, which GOP candidates would want to stand alongside him?
As Trump sees it, he and his team will identify the Republicans in the “top 25” races that “could go either way.” The president will then intervene on these candidates’ behalf and “bring them over the line.”
To a political novice, that might make sense. But for those more familiar with how campaigns work, this plan has some serious flaws: Republicans with “difficult” races tend to be in competitive areas, with many representing districts Hillary Clinton won. What makes Trump think they’d welcome a visit from one of the least popular presidents since the dawn of modern polling?
Whether the White House understands this or not, Republicans in the “top 25” races will be running away from, not toward, Donald Trump.
Indeed, some GOP lawmakers have already said as much. In the spring, Axios reached out to the 23 House Republicans who represent districts Clinton won two years ago, asking whether they wanted the president to campaign in their district for ahead of Election Day. As we discussed at the time, they didn’t sound like they’d roll out the welcome mat.
Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Colo.) campaign manager said, for example, “I don’t think it would make sense for him to even come here.” Rep. Peter Roskam’s (R-Ill.) communications director told Axios, “We have not requested the president’s assistance and we don’t plan on requesting his assistance.”
Of the 23, the only one who said he’d welcome Trump? Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), best known as Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman.
The gap between what the Republican president wants to do, and what his would-be beneficiaries want him to do, is likely to be significant.