Politics

In His Own Words: Trump Becomes Spokesman-in-Chief as Midterms Near

President weighs in and Democratic lawmakers fume

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One at the White House on Tuesday. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump on Thursday said Kanye West can “speak for me anytime he wants.” But the controversial rapper is one of the few folks doing so lately.

Worried Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was in trouble, Trump decided to go on the offensive last week. He sent a message to his conservative base — and other Republican voters — when he declared men are in danger of being “ruined” by a single “false” allegation by a woman. At a campaign rally, he mocked one of Kavanaugh’s accusers as an arena full of his supporters laughed and chanted that she should be thrown in jail.

The next day, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made an increasingly rare appearance in the White House briefing room. During that days Q&A with reporters, Sanders repeatedly defended Trump’s comments about Christine Blasey Ford, saying he merely was pointing out the “facts” of the ongoing saga.

Notably, Sanders — who has briefed only a few times in the last two months, part of a trend of fewer and fewer daily interactions with the White House press corps — hasn’t returned to the podium since. In her place, the most likely Trump advocate has filled the void: Donald J. Trump.

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Over the last eight days, the president has been weighing in on the Kavanaugh nomination, its aftermath, the coming midterm elections, “extreme” Democrats and their “lust for power” that will “destroy” the country — and so much more.

From the Oval Office to Air Force One to the White House’s South Lawn to arenas in Kansas, Mississippi, Minnesota, Iowa and Pennsylvania to “Fox & Friends,” Trump has become his own chief spokesman.

Trump invited West and NFL legend Jim Brown to the White House Thursday for a lunch meeting about criminal justice reform and other issues. White House aides had planned for the meeting to be held behind closed doors, but the president, likely feeling his public offensive could save some House seats and help keep the Senate in GOP hands, had other plans.

West went on a meandering and confusing 10-minute rant that went viral. Trump called the rant “quite something” and his lunch guest a “smart cookie.”

The Trump offensive and “Kanye Day” at the executive mansion has been too much for some Democratic lawmakers.

“I felt like I was sitting in on a psychiatric visit and a commercial for Donald Trump. It wasn’t newsworthy. I suggest the president should maybe curtail these kinds of engagements,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told CNN.

“Meanwhile, we have $10 billion to $13 billion worth of damage to various places in the panhandle of Florida, and the president is being entertained by Kanye West and other celebrities,” she said. “It’s the wrong picture.”

Watch: Kanye Steals the Show

That “picture,” however, is showing no signs of change. Sanders won’t brief on Friday. She hasn’t all week. It’s unclear if she will again before voters head to the polls on Nov. 6.

To be sure, what might be called the “let-Trump-be-Trump” strategy is the playbook the White House appears poised to use until then, part of a communications strategy that can seem unorthodox but often is shrewdly nimble in a way that allows Trump to not only drive the narrative but control it.

For instance, the president called into “Fox & Friends” on Thursday in a wild, wide-ranging interview that lasted nearly 50 minutes. The three hosts, as always, offered a friendly reception but asked questions most journalists would have. But they also allowed Trump to talk uninterrupted, often changing topics to those he wanted to weigh in on.

Short interactions with the press on the South Lawn or Oval Office typically allow reporters to ask only four or five — though sometimes more — questions of the president. Daily press briefings give them more chances to press Sanders and other officials for answers or to clear up contradictions in Trump’s statements or tweets.

One former Republican congressional aide who at times has criticized Trump’s rhetoric and actions seemed to be warming to the president, this week calling his public offensive “sensibile.”

“It’s geared more towards turning out Trump supporters than appealing to moderates,” the former GOP aide said.

Part of the White House’s new strategy included an USA Today op-ed by Trump slamming some Democratic candidates’ embrace of the so-called “Medicare for All” health care plan. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the piece was full of “false and misleading words” that are part of “a purposeful sabotage of our nation’s healthcare system.”

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But the idea of a single-payer, government-administered health system is strongly opposed by his core supporters — and Republicans of all stripes. The op-ed, like this new Trump-as-chief spokesman plan, is not about changing minds. It’s about convincing just enough Republican voters in just enough places to limit Democratic gains in the House and maybe even pick up a seat or two in the Senate.

“I think there we’re going to do well. I think state-wide, I do very well in all these places we’re talking about,” he told the Fox morning show. “But it’s not about me right now, it’s about individual races. I see things happening that are very good.”

“We’ll just have to fight out it out because there are a lot of haters and they’re just absolute haters,” said Trump, who also says he believes polls are inaccurate because some people don’t want to say they intend to support him by voting for GOP candidates.

But Trump proved two years ago he’s an effective political fighter. On Tuesday, he defended a heavily partisan ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Kavanaugh after Hillary Clinton criticized the spectacle. She doesn’t “get it,” he said, referring to his stance that politics is one long fight.

And he is slated to take the fight on the road again with campaign tour stops Friday evening in Lebanon, Ohio, and Saturday in Richmond, Kent. The president, like he did in 2016, is following his instincts. Has he unleashed the secret sauce to salvage what experts say could be a “blue wave” election for his party?

One thing is for sure, says Democratic strategist Jim Manley: “The president is taking what he found was success with the Kavanaugh nomination and he’s going to use it from here on in until Election Day.”

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