Paul Ryan wants to reel in late deciders, Trump wants to turn out his base. Which strategy you prefer depends on whether you think there are more votes to be had at this point from group one or group two.
Gotta say, though, it seems like a bad sign for tomorrow that the president has spent weeks pre-blaming House Republicans for a poor Election Day showing and now they’ve begun to reciprocate. Having the recriminations begin before the polls have opened usually doesn’t portend a red wave.
Look at it this way: You don’t need to read political news sites on Wednesday if the GOP gets wiped out. They would have won if they’d focused more on immigration, Trump will say. We would have won if you’d focused more on the economy, Republicans on the Hill will answer.
The disagreement highlights the tug-of-war over strategy that’s been dogging the GOP all year: Should Republicans prioritize turning out Trump backers, or appeal to suburban swing voters? The party has diverged according to the chamber: Senate Republicans seeking to grow their majorities in rural, red states by toppling incumbent Democrats have mostly welcomed Trump’s red-meat approach; House Republicans whose survival hinges on the suburbs have privately griped and tried to change the subject…
Indeed, some House Republicans say privately that they feel abandoned, as if Trump has given up on them — the likely losers — in order to focus on the Senate. Rubbing salt in the wound, they feel Trump’s message to help Senate Republicans in rural, red states is a direct threat to the House GOP’s cause in suburban areas.
“His honing in on this message is going to cost us seats,” said one senior House GOP campaign source. “The people we need to win in these swing districts that will determine the majority, it’s not the Trump base; it’s suburban women, or people who voted for [Hillary] Clinton or people who are not hard Trump voters.”
One House GOP aide accused Trump of “hijacking” the election by trying to make it a national referendum on immigration instead of letting Republican congressmen run on local strengths, starting with the economy. Paul Ryan allegedly called Trump yesterday and begged him to focus more on jobs, only to have Trump swat him away. “In a wave election, two things seem to happen: Independents break heavily for one party, and that party’s voters are much more enthused about turning out than the other party’s,” wrote Kristen Soltis Anderson a few days ago. Ryan seems to believe that the way to break the blue wave is to find those indies who are still left on the table, presumably by focusing on the economy. Trump thinks that the way to break it is through the second part of the equation, by ramping up enthusiasm among the GOP’s own voters. Who’s right, who’s wrong?
Trump’s approach strikes me as more effective under the circumstances unless he’s gone so far with it that it’s actually costing the party votes among indies. One way to approach the strategic dispute is this: Which information is already priced into voters’ calculations and which information needs to be highlighted to them to maximize votes for your side? Trump would say, quite reasonably, that the state of the economy is already priced in. There’s a jobs report released every month and voters are always naturally thinking about the economy on Election Day, as it’s almost invariably number one in their list of priorities. Touting the latest employment numbers is thus an exercise in redundancy. Better to focus on culture-war voters who might be more willing to turn out after an emotional appeal. Their beliefs on subjects like immigration are already priced in to some extent too, of course, but the more Trump can drive up the fear factor, the more he might convince some populist stragglers to take an hour to go to the polls. The recent history of midterm wipeouts has been one in which voters from the governing party got complacent after a few years in power and didn’t turn out to the degree that the leaner, hungrier out-party did. Trump is trying to solve that problem with his “The illegals are coming!” pitch.
The question, as I say, is whether he’s taken it so far that some indies otherwise inclined to vote GOP for economic reasons might shy away now.
The President said he wanted this election to be a referendum on him. Well, voters are responding. I will just say again that his birthright citizenship stunt is going to cost the GOP several seats they'd have otherwise kept.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) November 5, 2018
There’s been a lot of news chatter lately about Trump’s ad featuring illegal-immigrant cop-killer Luis Bracamontes. Even Fox News has now decided to pull the plug on it:
That racist Trump ad WAS running on Fox News, but not anymore: "Upon further review, FOX News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either FOX News Channel or FOX Business Network," ad sales president Marianne Gambelli says. https://t.co/BJWKspmiwM
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 5, 2018
How many undecideds or “soft Republican” voters will decide to switch last minute to cast a protest vote against Trump because of stuff like this? It’s not even the Bracamontes ad per se that might convince them to do it, just a late reminder right before the big vote that Trump routinely says and does things that irk them and that they should “send him a message” of disapproval with their vote instead. Those voters might not be plentiful enough to swing a Senate race, particularly in red states, but in a House race — where there are many toss-ups right now — lord only knows.
But I don’t mean to overstate the extent to which Trump has focused on immigration at the expense of the economy. Byron York’s post is a useful corrective to that idea: POTUS has talked jobs, a lot, on the trail over the past few weeks, about 50/50 with border issues. By no means is he ignoring the subject. His immigration rhetoric has been sharper than usual, though, starting with the Bracamontes spot and his musings about the caravan, producing a media cacophony that risks drowning out the economic pep talks. Would a pure economic message, or even a 50/50 economy/immigration message with the latter toned down, have produced a different picture of the election map right now? Hard to say. But here’s his old friends Joe and Mika remembering a strategic conversation they had with POTUS a few years ago, back when they were all chummy.