Republicans gather to plot 2018 campaign as Trump clashes with party’s leaders

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President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are locked in an increasingly public and personal feud that threatens to derail the GOP’s re-election prospects and its ability to govern. (Aug. 23)
AP

NASHVILLE — As the Republican National Committee met here this week to plot its strategy for the 2018 mid-term elections, President Trump made news for feuding with members of his own party.

The president threatened to shut down the federal government if his planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border doesn’t get funded, and he’s reportedly had a tense relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The president recently tweeted against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, calling him “weak on crime border” and the White House on Thursday slammed Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker over his remarks last week that Trump doesn’t understand the character of the nation and has not shown the competence to lead.

But as those moments have grabbed headlines, some Republicans in Nashville for the Republican National Committee’s summer meetings publicly say they aren’t worried about the president’s impact on the 2018 elections. 

Robert Steele, an RNC committeeman from Michigan, said the committee and the president have seen success in delivering his message and in fundraising.

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“I think one thing we have seen from the RNC data is that the people who supported the president who are new to the process, the kind of grassroots folks, are all still very excited,” Steele said. “We are breaking all kinds of records for fundraising, on the grassroots and small-donor side, and we are doing way better than Democrats, and that’s not typical.”

Jennifer Carnahan, the chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said she is very optimistic.

Carnahan said Trump won three congressional seat districts there by 15-, 16- and 30-point margins last year and those seats are still held by Democrats.

“They are very vulnerable,” she said. “We are optimistic in Minnesota about President Trump and the 2018 momentum continuing.”

Still, some of Trump’s main promises to his base, such as the border wall, the Obamacare repeal and tax cuts, have not materialized. And Democrats have seized on that to criticize Republicans. 

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Michael Blake, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, predicted that Trump’s controversial comments about the violent protests at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., would hurt Republicans at the polls this year and in 2018.

Corker and other prominent GOP officeholders have denounced Trump’s remarks. But it’s not enough just to criticize Trump’s words, Blake said.

“You have to denounce the words and the actions and the policies of Trump,” he said.

Still, supporters in the RNC and elsewhere say all the blame doesn’t fall on Trump and that the president has also been plagued by overcoverage in the media of his failures and little on his successes.

“I think some of his big signature campaign things haven’t happened, like the wall and health care, but he’s actually accomplished a lot,” Steele said. “He’s signed a tremendous number of bills, a tremendous number of executive actions, and some of this is on the legislators.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander echoed this point after speaking to the Tennessee Restaurant Association nearby in Nashville on Thursday.

“If a plane crashes, that’s news, if it doesn’t crash that’s not,” Alexander said. “Fortunately, most planes don’t crash and in the same way a lot of the legislation that we pass doesn’t make any news because we’ve worked it out.

“We’ve got a Supreme Court justice, we’ve overturned 14 major Obama-era regulations, we’ve just funded the Food and Drug Administration for the next nine years, almost without dissent,” he said. “That was two years of hard work.”

As far as the president’s off-the-cuff comments that frequently garner controversy, Steele said he believes the president has echoed the sentiments of the rank-and-file Republicans who supported him.

“What I find in Pennsylvania, is that the people who voted for the president overwhelmingly still support him and so there’s a lot of energy among those folks,” said Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Val DiGiorgio said.

“Especially, if Congress can get some things done and show they are working with the president, I think those folks will still come out and vote for our congressmen,” he said.

Contributing: Michael Collins, USA TODAY; follow Jordan Buie on Twitter: @jordanbuie.

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