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Donald Trump
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 18, 2016.Mark J. Terrill / AP file

Team Trump slams 2020 virus strategy memo from GOP officials

The National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated a memo that read, "Don't defend Trump ... attack China." Team Trump wasn't pleased.


These are extraordinary times for practically everyone, and including those with electoral interests on their minds. On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans know their majority is in jeopardy, but they're not sure how best to campaign during a pandemic or what their 2020 message should even be.

To that end, the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- which exists to help Senate Republican incumbents and candidates -- circulated a 57-page memo recently with guidance on the best way forward. Its existence wasn't especially surprising, but its contents have proven to be a bit more provocative than expected.

Politico, which obtained a copy of the strategy memo last week, reported that Republicans on the ballot this year are being advised to "address the coronavirus crisis by aggressively attacking China." And what about the White House?

The document urges candidates to stay relentlessly on message against the country when responding to any questions about the virus. When asked whether the spread of the coronavirus is Trump's fault, candidates are advised to respond by pivoting to China. "Don't defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban -- attack China," the memo states.

As a strategic matter, there is a certain logic to this approach. Donald Trump's approval saw a brief bump when the crisis began in earnest, but the president's support has since faltered. I suspect Democrats would love to see GOP Senate hopefuls spend the coming months defending the White House's response to the pandemic -- a daunting task, to be sure -- but it's not surprising that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which distributed the memo but did not author it, appeared to be steering its allies in a different direction.

But wouldn't you know it, Trump's re-election campaign doesn't quite see it that way. In fact, Politico reports that the president's campaign team was "furious" with the NRSC memo.

On Monday -- just days after POLITICO first reported the existence of the memo -- Trump political adviser Justin Clark told NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin that any Republican candidate who followed the memo's advice shouldn't expect the active support of the reelection campaign and risked losing the support of Republican voters.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee apparently fell in line quickly, telling the president's re-election team that the "don't defend Trump" line was "inartful."

The party's 2020 plans are clearly falling into place with precision and grace, aren't they?