Trump Heads to Florida to Rally GOP as ‘Kavanaugh Bump' Fades
(Bloomberg) -- So much for the “Kavanaugh Bump.” Republicans now fear some of their voters are losing enthusiasm a week away from midterm elections that will determine control of Congress.
Outrage amid the Republican electorate over Democrats’ treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination has dissipated, Trump aides and Republican pollsters say. After last week’s mail-bomb scare and synagogue shooting, President Donald Trump’s approval rating fell, potentially jeopardizing key Senate races that his allies thought had turned his party’s way.
Trump will head to Florida Wednesday evening as he begins an eight-state, 11-rally final campaign swing to rev up his supporters before the Nov. 6 vote.
But he will spend valuable time in the final days of the campaign on defense, traveling to states he won handily to try to shore up support for Republican candidates who strategists believed to be well positioned for victory a few weeks ago. Trump advisers have all but given up on keeping Republican control of the House and are now focused on saving the Senate, which will be crucial to confirm Trump’s judicial and Cabinet appointments.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday that Trump has shown “unprecedented” energy and stamina on the campaign trail in the closing month.
“It’s amazing the amount of time and energy that he has spent trying to push Republicans over the line, and I think you’re going to see that be fruitful. Particularly when it comes to the Senate,” she told Fox News.
The White House’s political calculus for the final week of the election was upended following pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats last week and the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting over the weekend. The stories have diverted attention from issues Trump had sought to focus on, namely immigration, and given his opposition an opening to attack him for his divisive rhetoric.
Trump is trying hard to turn up the heat on the immigration debate. On Monday, he announced he’d be sending thousands of troops to the U.S. border with Mexico to intercept a so-called caravan of migrants that’s still hundreds of miles away. On Tuesday, "Axios on HBO" released an excerpt of an interview to be broadcast Sunday in which Trump says he’ll sign an executive order to prohibit children of unauthorized immigrants who are born in the U.S. from being granted automatic citizenship.
The moves may energize Trump’s base supporters, who sent him to the White House in large part on the promise of an immigration crackdown. But he may further antagonize moderates and liberals.
The midterms have long looked like a turning point for Trump’s presidency, with forecasters projecting for months a Democratic takeover of the House. But White House officials and Republican strategists turned more optimistic in October after polls showed a surge in enthusiasm among GOP voters following the battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Yet polls now show that ardor is ebbing. The tide appeared to turn against Trump last week after he treated the mail bombs and synagogue shooting as reasons to attack the media and immigrants rather than unite the country.
Trump’s job approval rating fell 4 percentage points in the week that ended Oct. 28, with 40 percent of Americans approving of Trump’s performance as commander in chief, according to Gallup. It was an unusually steep decline for the poll, which is based on a survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted Monday through Sunday each week.
Bill Stepien, the White House director of political affairs, has already attempted to lay groundwork shifting blame away from Trump should his party lose the House. Stepien argued in an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg that the GOP has been hindered by historical headwinds, a wave of incumbent retirements, and strong fundraising by Democratic challengers.
The extent to which the White House has written off holding the House is demonstrated in Trump’s travel schedule ahead of the election. He’ll hold 11 rallies in eight states, focusing primarily on competitive Senate races, according to a person familiar with his plans who briefed reporters on Monday.
Some White House officials have grown particularly nervous about Senate races in Florida, Missouri and Arizona -- states that a month ago they were confident Republicans would win, one of the president’s outside advisers said. Trump will visit Florida and Missouri twice each before the election, beginning Wednesday in Fort Myers.
But he won’t visit Arizona at all. And in several states in which there are both competitive Senate and House districts, Trump is shunning swing districts in favor of areas where his support is strongest. For example, he is steering clear of the suburbs of St. Louis or the Miami area, where there are competitive House races, and he won’t make any stops in Michigan or Pennsylvania, two states that helped secure his 2016 victory.
Instead, his schedule for the last week of campaigning includes stops in Montana, West Virginia and Ohio -- states that he won comfortably in 2016 but where his party’s odds of winning Senate seats range from challenging to implausible.
One White House official took issue with the idea Trump had written off the House entirely. The official, who asked not to be identified in order to candidly discuss the matter, said the president had already campaigned in the districts of many representatives facing strong challenges and that his final appearances would help two House candidates in Montana and West Virginia.
Meanwhile, White House aides have debated how best to roll out Trump’s immigration proposals this week. The White House had been planning to revive the issue of birthright citizenship shortly before the election, but some aides argued Monday that it would conflict with Trump’s attempt to offer solace to the families of people killed in the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, which he visited on Tuesday.
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