Once again, Donald Trump is betting he knows best about how to win an election, in a new swipe at conventional political wisdom that will make for an especially tense and unpredictable night once midterm results start rolling in.
The President charged into Election Day Tuesday flinging vitriol and fear, false claims and politically incorrect rhetoric, defying warnings by GOP aides that his divisive style could cost Republicans the House of Representatives and that he should be focusing exclusively on the hot economy.
Two years into Trump’s tempestuous presidency, Democrats are targeting their best election results in six years. But given uncertainty over the quality of polling, questions over the makeup of the electorate and Trump’s talent for busting political norms, no one can say for sure how the election will play out.
Handicapping the races for all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate is especially difficult because Trump has chosen an inflammatory campaign strategy that even some top GOP officials fear could backfire.
After ditching a message about the roaring economy in favor of a searing race-fueled attack on Democrats over immigration, Trump trusts his own feel for what voters want to hear is still more acute than the advice of Republican strategists. If Tuesday is a bad night for Republicans, his high-stakes bet is sure to be second-guessed, but Trump is choosing to believe he’s got it right again. After all, trusting his instincts and ignoring GOP elites and pundits is what landed him in the White House in the first place.
“There’s a great electricity in the air, like we haven’t seen, in my opinion, since the ’16 election. So, something is happening,” Trump told reporters on Monday, shrugging off suggestions that Democrats had the momentum.
On the final day of an eight-state, 11-rally, six-day final campaign blitz, Trump rejected polling and historical precedent that suggests his low approval rating —at 39% in the latest CNN poll — could mean heavy losses for the GOP. At his final campaign stop at an exuberant rally in Missouri, Trump complained about media critiques of his tactics.
“If we don’t do so well tomorrow, they will put me on the ticket. If we do great tomorrow, they will say he had nothing to do with it, he was not on the ticket,” Trump said.
Capping the most incendiary campaign by any President in modern memory, Trump has been conjuring a dark vision of crime and disorder that he said would unfold if Democrats won the House. On Monday, he warned of “Democratic mobs” and spoke of looming “socialist nightmare.”
He appeared alongside Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk radio at his final rally in Missouri before returning to the White House shortly after 2 a.m. Tuesday. He also falsely accused Democrats of trying to get the vote for undocumented immigrants.
None of that was an accident.
Sources told CNN that the President “hated” a feel-good advertisement hailing the booming economy made by his re-election campaign and insisted instead on a hardline immigration message that including a racist web video in the belief that the issue puts Democrats on the defensive.
“They want America to be a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and blood thirsty MS-13 killers,” Trump said at his first rally of the day in Ohio, invoking the migrant caravan of asylum seekers that he has portrayed as an imminent invasion even though it remains hundreds of miles away in Mexico.
Tuesday’s election, billed by both sides as the most important midterm in years, will be the most serious test yet of the way that Trump has conducted his tumultuous presidency and his refusal to tone down his behavior to widen his support base beyond the core of loyal voters who embraced his populist nationalism in 2016.
The President’s brazen style could help the Republicans hang on to the Senate, since many incumbent Democrats are up for re-election in red states where he won big. But GOP strategists are worried that the President’s pyrotechnics that are designed to drive up enthusiasm and turnout among his most loyal fans will backfire in the suburban districts that hold the fate of the House.
White House officials have warned Trump to expect losses in the House, multiple sources told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. And the President’s decision to anchor the campaign on inflammatory rhetoric about immigration rather than one highlighting the roaring economy has angered some GOP strategists. —CNN