Inside Politics: Midterm machinations

Some Republicans believe they can still save their House majority, but GOP operatives and donors worry the president still doesn't realize how bad it could be. Plus, President Trump starts talking on the stump about Medicare and Social Security and prepares for a fall pivot to foreign policy. It's all on Inside Politics.

Posted: Sep. 10, 2018 12:27 PM
Updated: Sep. 10, 2018 1:02 PM

Here are the stories our D.C. insiders are talking about in this week's "Inside Politics" forecast, where you get a glimpse of tomorrow's headlines today.

1. White House's rose-colored glasses

Is the President ready for November? CNN national political correspondent Maeve Reston said she's hearing from Republican operatives and donors worried that President Trump and his top advisers don't realize how bad November's election could be for them.

"There's real concern that he is totally delusional about the chances of keeping the House," Reston said. "That's in part because there aren't a lot of people who are around him willing to tell him the truth."

2. Trump may turn to foreign policy

With the President under siege at home, he may soon borrow a familiar White House tactic: a focus on foreign affairs.

"Presidents often, when they get in trouble at home, go abroad and they find that's a way to escape their troubles," said New York Times White House reporter Michael Shear. Trump will address the UN General Assembly later this month, and has trips to Europe and South America planned for after the election.

"President Trump hasn't always been as successful using the foreign trips as a way of getting away from trouble," said Shear, citing the Helsinski summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "But at least it's an opportunity to change the subject, and if the Democrats do take over the House he'll want to try to do that."

3. Trump talking more about entitlements

President Trump's recent rallies have included a new rallying cry: I'm the one who will save your Social Security and Medicare.

"The President is saying Democrats want to kill Social Security and Medicare, while the Republicans are not going to do anything to it," Bloomberg White House correspondent Toluse Olorunnipa said. Trump is making that promise despite so many of his fellow Republicans vowing to rein in entitlement spending.

"Democrats are pushing back, saying Republicans aren't necessarily trying to save Social Security, their tax cuts are making it harder to fund those programs," said Olorunnipa.

4. Congress eyes new Russia sanctions -- later

After the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, there was a clamor in Congress to do more to punish Russia for election meddling that appears to be going on to this day. But Washington Post congressional reporter Karoun Demirjian said nothing looks imminent.

"The GOP basically said, hold on hold on, we're going to go through a step-by-step process first," said Demirjian. "That process began in earnest last week, it's picking up steam this week. The question is, are they actually going to do anything before the midterm elections come about? It's not necessarily clear that they have the time or inclination to do so."

5. GOP hopes all politics still local

And from CNN's chief national correspondent John King:

Last week there was evidence of a dip in President Trump's approval rating. This week the overwhelming focus was on White House chaos and the character and temperament questions raised by the new Bob Woodward book and then the anonymous New York Times essay from a senior administration official.

Not great developments for Republicans trying to protect the GOP House majority, to say the least.

Inside 60 days now to the midterms, most Republicans with significant campaign experience concede the odds of protecting the House majority are bleak -- and concede the past week or two has, to be polite, not been very helpful.

But there are some top GOP strategists who still see a path. Their mantra: make the election about the economy, and local issues; block out President Trump and his Twitter feed as much as possible and get it right when it comes to the nuts and bolts of organizing, turnout and fund-raising.

Even in this group, though, the assessments at the 60-day mark had seeds of worry.

First the math.

"I can still make the case for 15-20," said a longtime GOP strategist involved in 2018 House races, meaning a case that the Republicans lose seats but that Democrats do not get the 23-seat gain needed for the majority. This strategist went on to say, "I can also see 20 to 30, but I believe we are still in play." Meaning still in play to keep the Democratic gains below 23.

A second GOP operative, with some three decades experience, said as of this weekend, "I have us down 17/18 net in the House."

But both operatives pointed to trouble signs beyond any worries about how the President conducts himself.

The powerful national economic news should help GOP candidates. But the second operative said there was growing evidence that "tariffs are starting to have a real impact in the Midwest -- Michigan, for example -- and farm country."

Both operatives also gave Democrats begrudging credit for tapping into concerns about health care costs and access. "Health care is now a roaring issue and the GOP has no answers," the second strategist said.

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