Anyone who still believes that Donald Trump and the Republican Party he leads are indistinguishable from each other isn’t looking too hard at either. As the curtain closes on the 2018 election season, familiar tensions between the GOP’s old and new guards have reemerged. This time, the squabble is over the party’s pitch to voters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Donald Trump wanted the 2018 election to be a “referendum about me,” and he’s done just that. In the closing weeks of the race dominated by acts of political and bigoted violence, which the president confessed had “stopped our momentum,” Trump has tried to refocus the national consciousness on illegal immigration. But Trump’s closing arguments on the issue are more aggressive than even his 2016 campaign. The president has flirted with an executive order to challenge the 14th Amendment, dispatched a “surge”-level detachment of soldiers to the border to meet a threat that is at least weeks away (if it materializes at all), and placed factually challenged advertisements claiming that the Democratic Party wants to see murderous alien migrants obtain U.S. residency.
This is all too much for the status quo ante Republican Party. “Trump has hijacked the election,” a House GOP aide told Politico. The Beltway publication revealed that outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan called the president on Sunday requesting that he abandon his myopic focus on immigration to touch on his economic record. Unemployment is at historic lows with job growth showing no signs of slowing. The economy is expanding beyond replacement levels. Inflation is low, and wage growth is accelerating. This is a good story to tell, but Trump isn’t telling it.