Politics

Advice for Donald Trump After Alabama

‘Stay out of the primaries,’ one GOP lawmaker says

President Donald Trump arrives with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before a Republican caucus luncheon in the Capitol on Nov. 28. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After the Republican Party suffered a stunning loss in deep red Alabama, an ever-defiant President Donald Trump is selling himself as the party’s soothsayer — but some lawmakers and strategists have some advice for Trump.

Republicans are both relieved that Roy Moore will not bring his sexual misconduct allegations to the Senate and evaluating whether his inability to protect a seat that had been safely in GOP hands since 1992 signals a Democratic wave ahead. The president, who last week did something rare by calling himself “the leader of the party,” signaled Monday he believes he knows best which candidates can and cannot win general elections.

In a tweet, Trump contended he always believed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and Moore “would lose (for very different reasons), and they did.” He further touted his own tea leaf-reading skills by reminding his 44.8 million followers that he predicted his own victory in the 2016 presidential race.

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Trump also misstated the Republican Party’s performance this year in House races with candidates he largely backed. “Remember, Republicans are 5-0 in Congressional Races this year,” he wrote. ( The GOP is 5-2 this year in special elections, with losses in Alabama and California’s 34th District.) And while prognosticators are watching for signs of a Democratic wave, the president is predicting his party will “do well in 2018, very well.”

Here are three pieces of advices lawmakers and political strategists have for Trump as the midterm cycle heats up.

All primaries are local.

That’s what Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne told Roll Call when asked if he had any advice for the president.

“The advice I’d give to everybody up here is to stay out of the primaries. Let Alabamians pick who our nominee is going to be,” Byrne said. “Once we pick a nominee, let’s all get behind them and make them successful. What we did was we had Mitch McConnell come in here and put his finger on the scales.”

Trump followed the lead of the Republican establishment by endorsing appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the primary against Moore. (He has since claimed he did so out of a belief that Moore could not win a general election.)

Byrne puts most of the the blame for Moore’s loss on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying if the Kentucky Republican had “stayed out of this race, he’d have a Republican senator coming up here. … [McConnell] goes all-in for him, spends a bunch of money, runs out a ton of good candidates … and guarantees we’ve got a weak candidate in the [primary] runoff with Roy Moore.”

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Expand the base beyond Bannon.

Many of Trump’s moves are calibrated to satisfy his political base — and to keep them energized. On any given day, polls show this group includes between 30 percent and 40 percent of the overall electorate.

But Evan Siegfried, a GOP political operative, says the Alabama race — with married Republican women and African-Americans helping to push Democrat Doug Jones over the finish line — shows that might not be enough for Trump and his party in 2018.

“The president just doesn’t have much appeal to people other than those who were going to vote for Roy Moore no matter what,” he said. “Republicans usually do OK with married women. But what should alarm Trump and other Republican Party leaders is they have been losing married women more and more as the year went on.”

To hold onto its House and Senate majorities, Siegfried and some top GOP lawmakers like McConnell want Trump to stop listening to Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who helped craft Trump’s conservative-base focused 2016 campaign.

“Steve Bannon has shown he doesn’t belong in politics and shouldn’t be involved in elections,” Siegfried said. “The Alabama Senate seat is Bannon’s early Christmas gift for Democrats.”

The day after the Alabama election, however, Trump sent a message to that very base. “We are proud to be the ‘deplorables,’” he said, using a term Hillary Clinton once uttered to describe part of his base. That came after a morning phone conversation with Bannon.

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Keep the team together.

Under Trump, Republicans started hot in elections, but have since lost the race for the Virginia governor’s mansion and the Alabama Senate contest. Republican members last week clearly did not want to offend the president, declining comment when asked if he erred by endorsing Moore.

But a handful of GOP lawmakers chose to end interviews rather than defend Trump. That sort of sentiment could cause further fractures in the party, affecting the shape and tone of congressional races and hindering pursuit of what lawmakers and the White House often call their “unified” agenda.

“A blue wave instead of a crimson tide rolled over Alabama,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “Losing in blue states like Virginia and New Jersey is one thing, but losing a U.S. Senate seat in a bright red state in the deep South is a blow to Trump’s vaunted base.

“The next casualty after Moore” could be GOP agenda items important to both Trump and his party’s lawmakers, Bannon said. “The president’s defeat ... may embolden maverick Republicans in the Senate like Susan Collins. … House Republicans who represent districts that Hillary Clinton won last year will be more panicky and have more incentive to stray.”

Watch: So Special: 4 More Special Elections on the Way, So Far

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