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    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Mercurial Trump Rattles Republican Party Ahead of Midterms

    Mercurial Trump Rattles Republican Party Ahead of Midterms

    SEPT. 8, 2017

    WASHINGTON — President Trump’s mercurial politics are already rattling Republicans heading into the 2018 midterm campaign, sparking Trump-like primary challenges in two high-profile Senate races and a host of lower-profile House contests, while pushing a growing number of moderate House members to the exits.

    On Thursday night, Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a leader of the House Republican moderates, announced that he had had enough, following Representatives Dave Reichert of Washington and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida to a Trump-free retirement.

    Trump-inspired candidates have emerged to challenge Senators Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, two Republicans who have been targets of the president’s ire, as well as House members seen as insufficiently devoted to Mr. Trump, such as Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

    And in a closely watched special Senate election in Alabama later this month, Mr. Trump is waffling on his commitment to the incumbent, Senator Luther Strange, buoying the hopes of Roy Moore, a former State Supreme Court justice and darling of the hard right.

    Republicans fear that Mr. Trump has relinquished his role as leader of the party, instead assuming the mantle of his own political movement. And they are bracing for an election season in which their deeply unpopular president does more to undermine than aid candidates of the party he ostensibly oversees.

    “It’s a cult of personality,” said Mr. Sanford, who faces a primary challenge from a state legislator who charges that the congressman has been inadequately loyal to the president. “He’s fundamentally, at the core, about Donald Trump. He’s not about ideas. And ideas are what parties are supposedly based on.”

    Such open divisions between a president and elected officials of the same party mark an extraordinary departure from modern political tradition. Even if they feuded at times with their president, lawmakers knew they could ultimately count on the White House to endorse and raise money for incumbents, because controlling as many seats as possible would serve both their interests.

    But Mr. Trump’s decision to align himself with congressional Democrats this week over federal spending and hurricane relief cemented a view that he will not operate according to any such conventions. Relations between the president and congressional Republicans have frayed over the lawmakers’ failure to deliver on key legislation and Mr. Trump’s constant badgering and personal attacks against them.

    The president has repeatedly assured Republicans that he will be an active campaigner for the party next year. But Republican leaders fret that he will gravitate toward candidates who share his distinctive political priorities and anti-Washington attitude, and that nominating some of the Trump-driven candidates could imperil their control of Congress. He will have spent as much time in his first year in office raising money for his own re-election as helping others.

    Yet even Republicans who are uneasy about Mr. Trump say lawmakers need to understand the grip he holds on the conservative grass roots.

    “If you would go to my county Republican clubs right now, they are all about Trump,” said Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida. “He is the party.”

    Just how far his reach extends could determine some of the most high-profile races next year.

    Mr. Trump is in open war with Mr. Flake, who shunned the president last year and has written a scathing book about his party’s “Faustian bargain.” Mr. Trump’s political arm has aired ads against Mr. Heller, while the president himself used a televised White House meeting with Mr. Heller to warn that he would be voted out if he did not back repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

    Now, Mr. Flake and Mr. Heller, the only two Republican senators on the 2018 ballot from swing states, are facing primary challenges from pro-Trump candidates.

    “Hopefully the president recognizes it’s in his best political interest to have as many Republicans in the Senate as possible,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, adding, “I think he can count.”

    Nearly as worrisome to Republicans is what the president is not doing for another incumbent: Mr. Strange. Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, shortly before the senator’s primary last month. At that time, he signaled to the senator that he would campaign with him before a runoff on Sept. 26.

    “He’s offered to do whatever he can to help,” Mr. Strange said the day before the primary.

    But now that Mr. Strange finds himself locked in a difficult race with Mr. Moore, Mr. Trump has gone quiet. Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, is loudly urging Mr. Trump to back away from Mr. Strange, while some current White House officials counsel the president to be careful about spending political capital on a candidate who may lose, according to a senior administration official.

    In a phone call with Mr. Trump on Tuesday, Mr. Strange highlighted a radio interview that Mr. Moore had done with Laura Ingraham last month in which Mr. Moore said the president was disconnected from his base and suggested that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, was behind the endorsement of Mr. Strange, according to a Republican briefed on the call.

    However, any attempt at luring the president into scheduling an Alabama trip has yet to work: Mr. Strange, who has based his entire campaign on his support for and from the president, told Mr. Trump that a presidential or vice-presidential visit could win the race, but no commitment has come.

    Republican leaders are holding out hope that Mr. Trump may still appear with Mr. Strange. Privately, they are furious about the prospect of being saddled with as polarizing a figure as Mr. Moore, who was removed from his post as chief justice of the State Supreme Court over his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument. And they are fuming that, even with his loyalists, Mr. Trump cannot be depended upon.

    Uncertainty is also gripping the House, where this week two Republicans, Mr. Reichert and Mr. Dent, announced their retirements.

    Their decisions, just months after Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, another center-right stalwart, said she would also leave, has Republicans fearing a wave of retirements going into next year. Representative Dave Trott of Michigan is considering retiring, and another Michigan Republican, Fred Upton, may retire or run for the Senate, according to multiple party officials.

    “Is the House at risk? Absolutely,” Mr. Dent said.

    Mr. Dent’s announcement came a day after a pro-Trump candidate announced plans to run against him. That candidate, State Representative Justin Simmons, attacked Mr. Dent as a “ringleader” of opposition to the White House.

    “I’m appalled by the way he’s acted in his votes since President Trump was elected,” Mr. Simmons said in an interview.

    While they have not gotten the same attention as the threats to Mr. Flake and Mr. Heller, about a half-dozen pro-Trump Republicans have opened primary challenges against Republican members of the House, accusing the incumbents of inadequate fealty to the president. The House Republican campaign arm has quietly started a new incumbent-protection effort called the “Primary Patriot” program.

    Mark Harris, a North Carolina minister running against Representative Robert Pittenger in a Republican primary, said voters had plainly validated Mr. Trump’s agenda last year, and expect cooperation from the Republican-led Congress.

    “The average person blames Congress for the failure to enact this president’s agenda,” Mr. Harris said. “And personally, I think they’re right.”

    Mr. Trump will also leave his imprint on races beyond Congress by whom he chooses to support with his time and fund-raising power. Representative Jim Renacci of Ohio, a wealthy former auto dealer who is running for governor, said he had broached the subject of his race during an Oval Office meeting with the president, and Mr. Trump was tuned in.

    “The president has always been supportive of Jim Renacci, because I’ve been supportive of him,” Mr. Renacci said.

    But skeptics of the president say Mr. Trump simply does not understand that his own fate may well hinge on the success of the party’s candidates.

    Congressional Republicans are “carrying water on the Trump agenda up to their eyeballs,” said Josh Holmes, a top lieutenant to Mr. McConnell, while “you’ve got a Democratic minority that is doing nothing less than trying to impeach the man.”

    Republican frustrations boiled over this week after Mr. Trump torpedoed his own party on a fiscal deal, and then flew on Air Force One with Senator Heidi Heitkamp to North Dakota, where he handed Ms. Heitkamp, a Democrat, a ready-made commercial for her re-election next year by praising her as “a good woman.”

    It was a vivid illustration of just how inconstant his enthusiasm for Republicans might be. Faced with a choice between helping his party weaken a vulnerable Democrat, and indulging a Democrat who has been nice to him and whose support he wants for a tax overhaul, Mr. Trump opted emphatically for the latter.
    Last edited by Judy; 09-09-2017 at 12:17 AM.
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