WASHINGTON – The strategy of President Donald Trump to focus on his base “and keep them on amphetamines – highly charged,” may not be a winning formula “for success up and down the Republican ticket,” in 2018, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a CNN interview televised Sunday.
Emanuel, appearing on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” discussed the chaotic Trump White House operation and the challenges Trump presents to Republicans in an interview taped Tuesday when the mayor was in Washington for a speech and meetings.
Trump “actually changed the Republican base, and the Republicans in Congress aren’t up to speed with what his base is,” Emanuel said.
Trump and his team – who, Emanuel noted, came in with no White House experience “made some mistakes that have exacerbated already a troubling, fragile coalition and political position of a president.”
Emanuel has a vantage point held by few in the nation. He was former President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff; a senior advisor to former President Bill Clinton; and the leader of the Democratic House political operation when they won the House in 2006, taking control from Republicans.
Though Republicans have won four of the five special congressional elections held so far in 2017, Emanuel said, “2018 will be a referendum on Trump.”
Trump, facing low popularity ratings, has been buttressing his base since taking office on Jan. 20; his latest effort came on Thursday, with a campaign-style raucous rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Obama found that his personal popularity was not transferable. Democrats hold fewer spots in Congress, statehouses and in governorships after the eight Obama years in the White House than before he took office.
Emanuel said Trump may find – as did Obama – that their White House wins can’t be easily duplicated in lower ticket races in 2018.
“There are different needs from congressional to local — to your local party officials versus your statewides. It may work for President Trump, but it does not work for the rest of the Republicans,” Emanuel said.
“And his relationship with his voters may not be transferable. We’re going to find out some stuff pretty soon about — as it relates to other congressional races, other elections in both New Jersey and Virginia for governor, etc.
“Their strategy is very straightforward: get their voters, and keep them on amphetamines — highly charged. I’m not sure in — where the battlegrounds for Congress are, the battlegrounds are for the statehouses that’s going to be an electoral strategy for success up and down the Republican ticket.
“And I think it’s not just a strategy; there’s a set of policy decisions that are slowly but surely alienating persuadable voters.”
Emanuel was in the Clinton White House during the Ken Starr probe that led to Clinton’s impeachment in the House and his 1999 Senate trial.
Having witnessed how this strains a White House staff, Emanuel said, “if anybody tells you the investigation doesn’t kind of permeate, they’re not being honest with you. You have to fight it, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed. But you have to fight it.”
In the June 20 issue of “The Atlantic,” Emanuel and his friend and former Clinton White House colleague Bruce Reed offered a roadmap for angry Democrats to channel their anger to win in 2018.
Wrote Emanuel and Reed: “In 2018, Trump will provide the greatest fundraising and get-out-the-vote machine the party has ever had.”