Donald Trump just said something that will terrify congressional Republicans

Congressional Republicans spend most of their time these days holding their breath and praying that President Donald ...

Posted: May 23, 2018 2:33 PM
Updated: May 23, 2018 2:33 PM

Congressional Republicans spend most of their time these days holding their breath and praying that President Donald Trump doesn't say something that will blow up their carefully laid plans for the 2018 election.

Of course, this is Donald Trump we are talking about. And blowing up carefully laid plans is, well, sort of his thing.

Which brings me to Trump's speech at the annual Susan B. Anthony dinner in Washington Tuesday night. Here's part of what Trump said when talking about the coming midterm election:

"But if Democrats gain power, they will try to reverse these incredible gains. These are historic gains. They will try and reverse many of them. So your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016 -- although I'm not sure I really believe that, but you know. (Laughter.) I don't know who the hell wrote that line. I'm not sure. (Laughter and applause.) But it's still important."

HA HA HA HA HA ... wait.

This is vintage Trump. He is reading a prepared speech about how 2018 is so critical because it will determine whether the gains made for conservatives with his 2016 election will be continued in the second half of his first term or not. It's standard issue political speak for a president trying to rally his somewhat too-satisfied base to the necessity of turning out to vote in midterm contests.

Since there have been midterm elections, presidents have given speeches in the run-up to the campaign trying make sure their bases understand just how high the stakes actually are for this non-presidential year vote.

But this is Trump. And Trump never does things the way past presidents (or even past politicians) have. So he reads the line -- "your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016" -- but them stops himself because, well, he doesn't totally believe it.

Trump believes that the most important election -- past, present or future -- was his election in 2016. It was the biggest upset in American political history. It was a seminal moment in the ongoing battle between the people and the powerful. It signaled a remaking of not just the Republican party but of how we conceive of -- and analyze -- American politics.

(Nota bene: I think he's right about all of that.)

In truth, that doesn't make Trump terribly unique. Every president thinks his election -- especially the first one -- is the most important election. And that the second most important election is their reelection race. The difference? They don't say it out loud.

Trump's honesty is sure to send a chill down the spines of Republican strategists tasked with trying to hold onto the GOP's 23-seat majority come this fall.

For Republicans to have any chance at remaining the majority party in 2019, they badly need the Trump base that turned out in droves to vote for the GOP nominee in 2016 to again head to the polls in five months' time.

The available data since that 2016 election suggests that isn't easy -- even with an engaged Trump. In Alabama, Trump was an active participant in the final days of the special election between Roy Moore and Doug Jones. But he was unable to sway the result to Moore. Ditto a special House election in southwestern Pennsylvania in which Trump campaigned with the Republican nominee, only to watch him come up short with voters.

What Republicans simply cannot have is a Trump who seems less than jazzed about the 2018 midterms -- and who conveys that "meh" feeling to his core base of supporters. Which is why Trump's comments on Tuesday night have to be so concerning for Republicans.

Let's be clear: There was a joke-y element to Trump's aside. People laughed -- twice! -- during his 2018-is-no-2016 lines.

But, in all "jokes" there is an element of truth. Especially when the joker is Donald Trump.

He often hides behind humor to tell truths he quite clearly believes. Or uses the idea that he was joking to escape criticism or controversy.

The question Republican candidates and elected officials have to ask themselves this morning is, do they trust that Trump was joking? And, even more importantly: Does Trump's base know that he was joking? And will he make that clear a whole bunch of times between now and the November election? Can anyone make him?

Even the slightest loss of enthusiasm among Trump base voters could be problematic for the broader Republican Party. Special election results over the past 17 months have confirmed time and again what polls of the electorate also show: That the Democratic base is currently more passionate and motivated to turn out than the Republican one.

Trump's role over the next five months is to use his personal popularity among Republican base voters to close that gap. But comments like the one he made Tuesday night could well have the opposite effect.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31715

Reported Deaths: 1984
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9189533
Lake3299167
Cass15826
Allen127766
St. Joseph117034
Hendricks112367
Hamilton109992
Johnson1082104
Elkhart100827
Madison58258
Porter48721
Bartholomew48033
Clark45838
LaPorte40821
Tippecanoe3733
Jackson3611
Howard35618
Delaware35434
Hancock31927
Shelby31421
Floyd31338
Boone28235
Morgan26124
Vanderburgh2482
Montgomery22717
White2268
Decatur22431
Clinton2151
Noble18520
Grant18520
Harrison18521
Dubois1822
Greene16723
Warrick16426
Dearborn16221
Monroe16010
Henry1597
Vigo1477
Lawrence14322
Miami1391
Putnam1337
Jennings1274
Orange12422
Scott1183
Ripley1126
Franklin1068
Carroll922
Kosciusko861
Daviess8216
Steuben792
Newton7410
Wabash722
Wayne695
Fayette654
Marshall641
LaGrange602
Jasper561
Washington521
Fulton471
Rush452
Jay430
Jefferson411
Randolph403
Pulaski390
Clay391
Whitley392
Brown331
Sullivan321
Starke313
Owen311
DeKalb291
Perry270
Huntington262
Benton250
Knox240
Crawford230
Wells230
Tipton221
Blackford201
Switzerland190
Fountain182
Parke170
Posey170
Spencer161
Gibson142
Ohio130
Adams121
Warren121
Vermillion90
Martin90
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0152

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32477

Reported Deaths: 1987
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin5310237
Cuyahoga3963217
Marion261921
Hamilton2458128
Lucas2126229
Pickaway204335
Mahoning1341169
Summit1236159
Butler80225
Stark68589
Lorain64858
Columbiana60950
Montgomery60515
Trumbull52942
Belmont39012
Miami34830
Warren33619
Tuscarawas3182
Portage31458
Medina30219
Delaware30013
Ashtabula28132
Wood27645
Lake26811
Geauga25729
Wayne25050
Fairfield2403
Clark2236
Licking20710
Allen19131
Mercer1903
Clermont1885
Richland1863
Erie1575
Darke15316
Madison1347
Washington11718
Crawford1043
Morrow1041
Greene935
Ottawa917
Putnam8714
Monroe7111
Sandusky6810
Ross662
Hocking654
Auglaize643
Jefferson622
Huron551
Williams521
Hancock481
Muskingum450
Union450
Clinton430
Hardin410
Shelby412
Logan370
Fayette370
Wyandot362
Fulton360
Defiance322
Guernsey310
Preble301
Carroll282
Lawrence280
Holmes271
Champaign261
Brown251
Coshocton240
Knox231
Vinton191
Seneca192
Ashland180
Highland181
Perry181
Scioto150
Henry150
Athens141
Paulding130
Jackson110
Harrison100
Adams81
Gallia71
Pike60
Meigs60
Morgan50
Noble50
Van Wert50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 81°
Angola
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 87°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
85° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 87°
Decatur
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 86°
Van Wert
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 86°
Pop-Up Storms Tuesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events