Out­look frus­trates GOP

Lead­ers fear strong econ­omy won’t be enough to fuel turnout

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation -

WASH­ING­TON — As Democrats en­ter the fall midterm cam­paign with pal­pa­ble con­fi­dence about re­claim­ing the House and perhaps even the Se­nate, ten­sions are ris­ing be­tween the White House and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans over who is to blame for po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing the party, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­vis­ers point­ing to the high num­ber of GOP re­tire­ments and law­mak­ers plac­ing the blame squarely on the pres­i­dent’s di­vi­sive style.

Yet Repub­li­can lead­ers do agree on one sur­pris­ing el­e­ment in the bat­tle for Congress: They can­not rely on the boom­ing econ­omy to win over un­de­cided vot­ers.

To the dis­may of party lead­ers, the healthy econ­omy and Trump have be­come coun­ter­vail­ing forces. The de­cline in unem­ploy­ment and soar­ing gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, along with the tax over­haul that Repub­li­cans ar­gue is fu­el­ing the growth, have been ob­scured by the pres­i­dent’s in­flam­ma­tory moves on im­mi­gra­tion, Vladimir Putin and other fronts, party lead­ers say.

These self-in­flicted wounds since early sum­mer have helped push Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings be­low 40 per­cent.

“This is very much a ref­er­en­dum on the pres­i­dent,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said of the Novem­ber elec­tion. “If we had to fight this cam­paign on what we accomplished in Congress and on the state of the econ­omy, I think we’d al­most cer­tainly keep our ma­jor­ity.”

Democrats still face chal­lenges of their own, namely the un­pop­u­lar­ity of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Demo­cratic leader, and the party’s tilt left on is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion, both of which could chill sup­port from some other­wise per­suad­able vot­ers.

Even so, Glen Bol­ger, a lead­ing Repub­li­can poll­ster, and many other prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans now think they are likely to lose the House. The party is pre­par­ing to shift ad­ver­tis­ing money away from some of its most be­lea­guered in­cum­bents to­ward a set of races in some­what more fa­vor­able ter­ri­tory. In the nar­rowly di­vided Se­nate, both par­ties see eight or nine seats, most of them held by Democrats, on a knife’s edge.

Amer­ica First Ac­tion, a po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee aligned with Trump, con­ducted a se­ries of fo­cus groups over the sum­mer and con­cluded the party had a se­vere voter-turnout prob­lem, brought on in part by con­tent­ment about the econ­omy and a re­fusal by Repub­li­cans to be­lieve that Democrats could ac­tu­ally win the midterm elec­tions.

Break­ing that com­pla­cency is now the Repub­li­cans’ pri­or­ity, far more than woo­ing mod­er­ates with gen­tler mes­sag­ing about eco­nomic growth.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Ten­sions are ris­ing within the GOP over who is to blame for the party’s po­lit­i­cal woes, with White House ad­vis­ers point­ing to the spate of GOP re­tire­ments and law­mak­ers fault­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s di­vi­sive style.

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