President Donald Trump said Friday that he plans to spend almost all of his time this fall campaigning for the most vulnerable Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a strategy that would have him in many districts where endangered lawmakers in his own party regard him as a liability.
In a friendly radio interview with Sean Hannity, the conservative Fox News host with whom he shares a close relationship, Trump said he was confident the strength of the economy and the demise of the Islamic State would boost the fortunes of Republicans in this fall’s contests, and that he would personally work to pull lawmakers facing tough re-election challenges to victory.
“I am going to work very hard,” Trump said during the interview. “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.”
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,” Trump said.
But many if not most of the most competitive races are in districts where Trump is unpopular and more centrist Republican incumbents are toiling to distance themselves from him, as well as where Democrats are most motivated to turn out to vote against the president’s party.
Hannity seemed to allude to the phenomenon in a question, in which he asked what the president would say to motivate supporters of his “who may not like their RINO congressman,” using the derisive shorthand that conservatives use for “Republican in name only.”
Trump has confined his campaigning in recent months almost entirely to red states he won handily in 2016 that have competitive Senate races, including Tennessee, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.
His strategy, according to advisers, has been to capitalize on his outsize popularity among core Republican supporters to try to motivate them to turn out to help oust or defeat vulnerable Democrats. He has mostly steered clear of competitive races where he is a polarizing presence and could turn out Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans who consider him toxic.
Next week, though, the president will hold rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania, a sign he is beginning to aim for battleground states.
Trump said he was undaunted by the decades of history that has shown that a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm congressional elections. He insisted he would buck the trend.
“The economy may be the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country,” Trump said, harking back to a phrase Bill Clinton’s aides used to capture a pivotal issue of his campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
“If it’s the economy, then we should do very well,” he said in the Hannity interview, which was broadcast hours after Trump made a hastily arranged appearance on the South Lawn of the White House to claim credit for newly released data showing a 4.1 per cent growth rate in the last quarter, the strongest since 2014. “I just don’t know any reason why we shouldn’t do well.”
But he also previewed a negative message against Democrats, asserting to Hannity that they “want to raise people’s taxes, they want to open up borders, they want to get rid of ICE – I mean, the things they’re doing are so destructive, we won’t have a country.” Trump was referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has become a symbol of efforts to round up unauthorized workers and migrant family separations at the border with Mexico. Some Democratic candidates say it should be abolished.
And taking a cue from Hannity, who said Democrats would shut down investigations into “deep corruption” if they took power on Capitol Hill, Trump – facing new questions about whether his campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 race – declared that his political rivals were guilty of doing just that.
“If you talk about collusion, the collusion is there – there’s no question about it, but it’s with the Democrats and Russia,” Trump said, offering no evidence. “All you have to do is look at what they did and how they participated with Russia. It’s a disgraceful situation.”
The interview was broadcast after Trump led a National Security Council meeting at the White House about election security. His spokeswoman said the president and his national security team discussed “threats posed to our elections from malign foreign actors” and attempts to thwart and punish interference.
Trump posted this week on Twitter that the idea that Russia interfered in the election was “all a big hoax,” although the White House later said he was only referring to the charge that his campaign colluded with Russia.