© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Republican Strategy 5 Days Before Midterms


We are just five days out from Election Day, and President Trump is ramping up his rally appearances with a stop in Missouri today after stumping last night in Florida. The president seems to be shrugging off calls to tone down his more divisive rhetoric in the wake of last week's mail bombings and shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Instead, he is escalating his attacks on Democrats, on immigrants and also on the news media.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Democrats want open borders. And they want to invite caravan after caravan into our country, which brings crime...


TRUMP: ...Upon crime. A vote for Democrats is a vote to liquidate America's borders. And it's a vote to let meth, fentanyl, heroin and other deadly drugs pour across our borders.

GREENE: We want to talk through what the Republican strategy might be right now with a conservative writer who often comes on our program. It's Jonah Goldberg from National Review.

Jonah, welcome back.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey. It's always great to be here.

GREENE: So I want to start with President Trump tweeting out a video that is featuring tape of an immigrant in the country illegally who had been convicted of murder. It shows the man in court talking about how he wished he had killed more police officers. Did this cross some kind of line?

GOLDBERG: Well, the line has been so trampled for so long, it's hard to say. I mean, it crosses a line for me. I think what Donald Trump has been about for a very long time with regard to illegal immigration is that he is trying to hold up a very small, statistically, subset of illegal immigrants who are these terrible criminals - they're less likely to be terrible criminals than a lot of average Americans - but hold them up as representative of the entire class of illegal immigrants. And sometimes, he even blurs the line to non-illegal immigrants. And it's part of his larger project of changing the narrative about immigration in this country from one of it being a good thing to it being a bad thing and the worst part of it is the illegal stuff. And he's had, you know, remarkable success with it.

GREENE: You say remarkable success. Talk about that. I mean, these are the kinds of things that you think a lot of Republican voters want to hear and will get them out to vote for Republican candidates next week?

GOLDBERG: No. So that's sort of the irony. Right? I mean, we are in this weird moment where you would think that Donald Trump would be concerned about holding on to those last sort of marginal Republican seats that'll be decisive about whether or not we can win - whether or not he can win - hold on to the House. And instead, he seems to be tripling, quadrupling down on a rhetorical strategy that is almost guaranteed to turn those purplish swing districts blue. And, you know, part of it is - he's sort of like Zoolander. He only has one look. Right? You know, he only knows how to do this divisive stuff pretty much. But part of it also may be that they've decided that this works for ginning up his core supporters in Senate races, which they care more about than House races.

It also may be that Donald Trump himself doesn't actually care about holding on to the House. And he may actually benefit, he thinks, from the fact that anybody who is left holding a Republican seat after the coming election will be much more pro-Trump than the average Republican congressman now 'cause the only ones who are pro-Trump, come from pro-Trump districts are guaranteed to survive.

GREENE: So you're saying he might want a House that might be controlled by Democrats but which has a lot of people who are tremendously loyal to him. And that's a world where there might be investigations starting into his administration. But is he seeing a situation like that as maybe beneficial to him leading into his own re-election bid?

GOLDBERG: You hear that a lot from people in Trump world, that he likes the prospect of running against a Democratic House for 2020. Again, the problem here, as with all of these kinds of things, is it's - you know, trying to come up with the 3D chess analysis for why Trump is doing what he's doing is kind of like finding faces in clouds.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: There's a lot of sort of Rorschach test stuff going on. It could simply be that he likes all - he likes attention. He would prefer positive attention to negative attention, but he'll take negative attention over no attention. And he wants to make this election about him. He wants the argument to be about him. That's why he brings up birthright citizenship. That's why he can't hold a presidential line in the wake of the horrific shootings in Pittsburgh or even the mail bombing. And he has to be the center of it all. And people may be imposing grander schemes and plans upon what is really just Trump being Trump.

GREENE: But it sounds like - I mean, if this is even a conversation in the Republican Party that maybe Trump has, you know, given up on holding the House or might even, as you suggest, prefer to have Democrats winning the House - I mean, what is it like to be Republican candidates out there right now who are standing there having him come in and campaign with them?

GOLDBERG: Well - I mean, I think on the Senate side, there are a lot of Republican candidates. And those are the most - this is the best field, the best landscape for Republican senators since basically 1914. And Trump, by boosting up those rural hardcore Trump supporters, could be the margin. I can't think of a lot of districts that are on the bubble for Republican House races where all of this talk helps. I can only see how it hurts for most of them.

GREENE: All right. Jonah Goldberg of National Review, always great having you on the program. Thanks, Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Always great to be here. Thank you.

GREENE: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.