Trump back on the stump


Trump back on the stump

The US president is rallying party support on the campaign trail ahead of vital midterms, writes Ben Riley-Smith in Washington

RISKS: Donald Trump. Photo: AP
RISKS: Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Squint and it could be 2016. Donald Trump on a campaign stage, ad-libbing his way through an 80-minute speech as his supporters go wild.

Crowd members chanting “lock her up” at every mention of Hillary Clinton and booing the “fake news” media. ‘Make America Great Again’ hats are everywhere.

The only giveaway is the podium, which now sports a presidential seal.

Last week, Mr Trump returned to where he feels most at home – on the campaign trail. With the congressional midterm elections three months away, he is ramping up his engagements.

He attended three rallies in five days last week – in Florida on Tuesday, Pennsylvania on Thursday and Ohio last night. All three are swing states and all three – as Mr Trump does not fail to mention – went his way when he defeated Clinton.

Mr Trump is not on the ballot this time but is coming to the aid of Republican congressmen on whose re-election the fate of his next two years depends.

Most at risk for the president’s party is the House of Representatives, where every member faces re-election. If the Republicans lose two dozen of their 236 seats, the Democrats take control, securing a majority that could block Mr Trump’s plans – or begin impeachment proceedings.

The Senate, also in Republican hands, is less at risk. Just a third of the seats are up for grabs and most of those are already held by Democrats.

Judging by historical data – which shows new presidents get whacked at their first midterms, especially if they have Mr Trump’s low opinion ratings – the Republicans will lose the House. Which is where the president comes in. According to US media reports, he is chomping at the bit to get back out on the campaign trail.

As well as his three rallies last week, Mr Trump has been calling in to talk radio shows and firing off endorsements on his Twitter feed.

The president believes no one can sell his achievements better than him. And some of his allies believe so too.

Sebastian Gorka, who served as Mr Trump’s deputy assistant, told The Sunday Telegraph that the strategy of campaign rallies was working. “Every rally he gives gets a greater and bigger response live and in the media. This is political gold,” he said. “When I was his strategist I wanted him to do a rally at least every two weeks. Three in one week is a dream.”

Mr Trump’s addresses are long and conversational, often repeating lines or doubling back for emphasis.

They mix slogans, jokes, boasts, inaccuracies, complaints and political attacks, many delivered off the cuff. The language is direct, simplistic at times, but impactful. There are endorsements for candidates, although Mr Trump calls those bits “boring subjects”.

At one point in Pennsylvania, he pretended to punch Vladimir Putin to the ground, mimicking what he claimed the media had wanted him to do at their recent press conference.

At another, he impersonated Bernie Sanders, bashing his fists furiously as he mocked the left-wing independent senator’s exuberant speaking style.

“That hair is getting whiter and whiter and he’s getting crazier and crazier,” Mr Trump said of Mr Sanders, four years his senior at 76. “Crazy Bernie, he is one crazy dude.” The crowd laughed along.

But for all the energy in the arenas, some Republicans doubt the strategy. Mr Trump is loved by his fans but loathed by his opponents, including some in his own party. A poll of polls run by the political website FiveThirtyEight shows just 41pc of Americans approve of the job he’s doing – lower than most post-1945 presidents at the same point.

One source in the Republican leadership in Congress fears drumming up his fan base could scare off the moderate swing voters that the party needs.

“You see his rallies, that’s their idea of a strategy,” the source said. “Trump goes out there, he yells a load of things, people go crazy. Meanwhile we’re trying to talk about positive things. They won in 2016, so I’m not going to say it’s bad strategy. But in congressional races, a lot depends on turnout and getting out the right voters.”

Even with the misgivings, there is no sign of Mr Trump disengaging. He recently said he would spend “six or seven days” campaigning and said of the midterms: “I just don’t know any reason why we shouldn’t do well.”

By so personally involving himself in the campaign, it is the president who will get stung if that prediction proves wrong.

©The Sunday Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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