Democrats Developing Strategy to Use Trump’s Words Against Him

While Trump’s MAGA rallies stir up his base, they also give Democrats fodder with moderates and independents

Dan Sena, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the party did extensive polling to determine its response to MAGA rallies. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Dan Sena, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the party did extensive polling to determine its response to MAGA rallies. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 29, 2018 at 3:02pm

Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith notched a win Tuesday in her special election runoff by tacking closely to President Donald Trump and campaigning with him the day before voters went to the polls, reinvigorating a debate within the Democratic Party about the best way to respond to the president’s freewheeling “Make America Great Again” rallies. 

Hyde-Smith won by 8 points, even after many voters recoiled from her comment that she would be “on the front row” of a “public hanging” if invited by a supporter, and corporate donors publicly requested that she return their contributions. 

The appointed senator found success by spotlighting her upcoming rallies with the president repeatedly during her only debate with Democrat Mike Espy, and she even referred to her campaign bus as the “MAGA wagon.” The president won Mississippi by 18 points in 2016.

Trump held two rallies in the state on the eve of the election and praised the senator as a “special woman.”

Democrats began preparing a strategy to use Trump’s words at his rallies against him in August, months ahead of the midterms. Democratic strategists conducted polls before and after Trump’s rally for Republican Troy Balderson in the special election in Ohio’s 12th District, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Among the conclusions: While the pep rallies do not persuade squishy voters to support or oppose the president, they do invigorate conservatives and evangelicals. Democrats concluded that Trump’s ability to turn out his base posed a meaningful challenge to winning key Senate races.

But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Dan Sena told the paper that the rallies aided the party’s efforts to win the House. Trump is prone to extreme rhetoric, especially in a venue full of his most enthusiastic supporters. Democrats capitalized on some of Trump’s most extreme comments from the rallies, leveraging them to alienate voters from the GOP.

That strategy was successful in a large battlefield of mostly suburban districts, where Democrats were competitive, in part, by using polling and focus groups of swing voters and people of color.

“That’s exactly why we needed the big battlefield,” Sena said.

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