Trump plans aggressive midterm involvement, as Republicans urge him to stick to the script

In early January, weeks after Republican Roy Moore suffered a historic defeat in Alabama’s Senate election, President Trump made a calculated decision to align himself with the GOP establishment — just until the midterm elections are over.

The president told Republicans during a party retreat at Camp David that he would lend his support exclusively to incumbent GOP lawmakers and “anybody else that has my kind of thinking,” promising them his days of propping up insurgent challengers were over.

Two sources close to the White House said Trump has no plans to deviate from that pledge, fearing the damage he would do to his relationships with congressional GOP leaders, which improved almost immediately following the president’s very public falling-out with former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon.

“Things are easier when you’re in good standing with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and [House Speaker Paul] Ryan, and he’s just now starting to understand that,” one of the sources said.

Trump worked closely with Ryan and McConnell in the weeks leading up to passage of their landmark tax reform bill last December, a massive legislative accomplishment that has already lined the pockets of American workers with reform-fueled bonuses, wage hikes, and domestic investments.

“More than two million hard-working Americans have received a ‘Trump Bonus’ as a result of the historic tax reform package that President Donald J. Trump signed into law,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.

Sanders said the dozen-plus companies that have awarded stock shares to their employees or announced billion-dollar investments in the U.S. are a testament to the abiding conservative belief that “lowering taxes, simplifying the complicated tax code, and making our companies more competitive” produces immediate and long-term economic results.

This is precisely the message Trump intends to carry as he campaigns alongside Republican candidates in Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Missouri, among others, in the coming months. A White House official likened the president’s forthcoming midterm schedule to “the final days of the [2016] election,” when Trump logged eight campaign stops across eight different states in the 72 hours before votes poured in.

“I’m going to spend probably four or five days a week helping people because we need more Republicans,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters earlier this month, declining to specify how many of those days would be spent on the road.

Republicans are facing a slew of retirements at the end of the year, among which several high-profile members and committee chairmen are included. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a senior member who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, became the latest to announced his imminent retirement last week, shocking most Republicans on Capitol Hill and back in South Carolina. Democrats will need to flip 24 seats in the House and two in the Senate to take control of both chambers, an outcome that has become conceivable as Republicans have dealt with a series of legislative stumbles, the president’s record low approval rating, and a federal investigation looming over the White House.

One of the sources close to the White House said Trump is likely to mimic his State of the Union speech out on the campaign trail insofar as he plans to avoid griping about the special counsel probe. The same source called the Russia probe a “distraction” and encouraged the president to limit his stump speeches to “the economy and ISIS,” listing those as the two areas where the administration and congressional Republicans have most excelled.

Of course, as with any campaign-style appearance, this president has a proven track record of veering off-script. If Trump doesn’t complain about the ongoing Russia investigation, he could still weigh in on news of the day or create a weeklong controversy with a one-off on cultural divisions. It wasn’t too long ago that he took the stage to campaign for then-Alabama Sen. Luther Strange and urged NFL team owners to fire any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem – a topic that was not included in the agenda when Strange invited the president to deliver remarks.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., urged the president to avoid such pot-stirring shortly after the Alabama episode, citing those types of comments as liabilities for Republican candidates this November.

“He needs to focus on defense, infrastructure, and terrorism. All indications are the economy is doing well. He needs to stop tweeting and getting in all these culture wars,” King told reporters.

But Democrats watching from the sidelines last Tuesday’s State of the Union saw a president who did very little of that. Instead, Trump stuck to the script and laid out several themes for his party to run on in a speech that was heavy on accomplishments.

“We repealed the core of disastrous Obamacare … Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low … We have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone,” Trump said, listing off just a few of the items Republicans can add to their own pitches in the months ahead.

This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner

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