Trump not doing enough to expand his appeal beyond core base, analysts say

August 9, 2018

Divisions in President Trump’s base have emerged as a warning sign in the mid-term elections, even as the president can rightfully claim a near-perfect record of endorsing GOP candidates.

Mr. Trump is drawing enthusiastic, overflow crowds at campaign rallies across the country three of them last week alone. The chants from his supporters of “build that wall,” “lock her up” and “U.S.A.” are as loud as ever.

The president on Wednesday predicted an against-the-odds Republican “wave” in November, based on his success so far in campaigning for winners in special elections and GOP primaries.

“As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win!” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I LOVE the people, they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!”

But pollsters and analysts in both parties say the president isn’t doing enough to expand his appeal beyond his core base of evangelicals and tea-party members, who make up about half of GOP voters.

They say there’s a danger that more moderate Republican voters and right-leaning independents, particularly millennials and suburban women in the GOP, will stay home on election day in November because they’re turned off by Mr. Trump’s confrontational style.

In focus groups, Catholic conservatives, secular conservatives, and moderates who make up 53 percent of the GOP base “are much less passionate about Trump and less enthusiastic about voting in November,” the Democratic polling firm of Democracy Corps said in a report.

“Trump’s red meat policy priorities and confrontational campaign rallies only energize the half of the GOP base formed by Evangelical conservatives and Tea Party supporters who are Trump loyalists,” wrote pollsters Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Nancy Zdunkewiz. “The other half of the GOP the Catholic conservative, secular conservatives, and moderate Republicans are physically bothered by what they see and less determined to vote in 2018. Moderates and secular conservatives, particularly the women and millennials, are a huge target for progressive messages in the next 90 days.”

Republican consultant Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Search, said their conclusion is “certainly valid among well-educated, upscale, suburban voters, especially women.”

He added, “The wind is in the Republicans’ faces, as it always is in the faces of the party that controls the White House in the first mid-term election. All of the special elections in 2017 demonstrated that Democrats over-performed their previous standing.”

Republican strategist Karl Rove said Mr. Trump risks alienating undecided voters with his aggressive rhetoric, including calling the media “the enemy of the people.”

“I think the president would be well-advised to tone down the rhetoric,” Mr. Rove said on Fox News. “To win the election this fall, he’s got to win the people who are up for grabs in this election.”

But Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Mr. Trump’s campaign stop Saturday night in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District was the reason that Republican Troy Balderson was able to defeat Democrat Danny O’Connor. She said Mr. Trump made the closing argument by reminding voters of the strong economy, and his need for more Republicans to support his policies.

“The visit on Saturday is why we won,” she said on Fox News. “Absolutely President Trump is the antidote to Republican complacency.”

The surging economy is widely considered Republicans’ best argument in the midterms. But a frequent complaint among Republicans, even inside the White House, is that Mr. Trump distracts from that economic message with his Twitter wars against the special counsel’s Russia investigation, the “fake news” media, prominent black athletes and others.

“Both he and Republican candidates can spend a lot more time talking about the Republican accomplishments under Republican rule,” Mr. Ayres said. “That includes the nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as well as many other conservative judges confirmed; the largest tax cuts in 31 years; massive deregulation which has juiced the economy and created a record stock market; ISIS is crushed; the Keystone Pipeline has been approved; illegal immigration has been slowed; the U.S. embassy is going to Jerusalem; we’re drilling in ANWR; the Obamacare mandate has been repealed. We’ve got a great story to tell, it’s just very difficult to tell it in the midst of the latest controversy.”

The good news for Mr. Trump is that his most loyal supporters are more fired up to vote than the Democrats who despise him. The Democracy Corps research found that 66 percent of Trump loyalists gave a maximum “10” for their level of interest in voting, compared with 59 percent of “ardently anti-Trump Democrats.”

“The GOP is united on immigration, concerns about assimilation, and the potential for discrimination against white people as they become a minority,” the Democratic pollsters said. “They share the desire for a strong military and the need to express their patriotism by respecting the American flag.”

But the Trump loyalists compose just under half of self-identifying Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the report said.

The rest are Republicans “who are more likely to be millennials or unmarried.”

“This half of the GOP is less enamored with Donald Trump and much less enthusiastic about the November elections (50 percent give the maximum ’10′ level of interest) compared to the Trump loyalists,” the report stated. “Their interest level is also well below what is expressed by Democrats and, importantly, it has not budged in the last three months.”

Mr. Trump’s prediction of a “red wave” runs counter to history. The president’s party nearly always loses congressional seats in the mid-term elections an average loss of 33 House seats in the past 20 midterms.

In 2010, Democrats lost a whopping 63 House seats amid a furious response by voters to the passage of Obamacare and an $800-billion-plus economic stimulus package.

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to take over the majority in the House.

Update hourly