Commentary: If Republicans Care About Winning in 2018 They’ll Play Follow the Leader

Donald Trump
by Jeffrey A. Rendall


Here’s a little quiz for you: what do West Virginia, Montana, Missouri, Florida, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio have in common?

It’s an easy one for close watchers of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, since all of these are states President Donald Trump won in 2016 and now feature Democrat incumbent senators running for (their lives and) Trump on immigration. Much has been made about the GOP’s golden opportunity to gain seats this year in states where large numbers of “deplorables” make up the voting population. Time will tell whether Republicans take advantage of the very favorable map.

It should also be noted Democrats see Arizona and Nevada as possible pick-up chances for their side, considering the Grand Canyon State contains a sizeable Hispanic population (assumed by the media to be anti-Trump) and incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake is “retiring,” leaving his seat open. Right next door in the Silver State (which Hillary Clinton stole thanks to the presence of huge casino worker unions) where incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller is widely seen as a wishy-washy RINO who doesn’t inspire many people. We’ll see.

Additionally there’s currently a tight race in Tennessee with incumbent RINO Sen. Bob Corker “retiring” and a purportedly popular “moderate” Democrat former governor challenging conservative stalwart Marsha Blackburn for the seat. The minority party also has delusions of defeating Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas but it defies logic to foresee that outcome.

All of these contests have engendered a ton of national focus and media analysis, making it appear that nowhere else is there anything close to a topsy-turvy political race.

But how about in Minnesota? Trump nearly pulled off a “miracle” there by capturing the formerly bluest of blue states two years ago, losing to Clinton by a mere percentage point on Election Night. Pundits hooted and hollered about the folly of Trump campaigning in the land of 10,000 lakes shortly before the election, but the close result demonstrated it was worth the energy expended.

Minnesota is unique this year because it offers not one but two incumbent Democrat senators running for reelection. Kathryn Cora Hinderaker reported at Real Clear Politics, “Because of Franken’s resignation, Minnesota is in the rare position of having two Senate elections going on simultaneously. In addition, the state features several competitive House races, in which the GOP hopes to net a two-seat pickup, as well as a hotly contested gubernatorial election. So Minnesota will be in the eye of the hurricane in November.

“National attention was slow to focus on the state’s key role in this year’s elections. The House races broke through first, as commentators realized that Minnesota—home to three of the few rural House districts still in Democratic hands—was likely to flip at least two, making the Democrats’ path to the House majority tougher.

“More recently, pundits belatedly realized that Minnesota also features a competitive, and highly interesting, Senate race, even though the state last elected a Republican senator in 2002. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar is comfortably ahead of state Sen. Jim Newberger. But in a year in which female candidates have shown staying power, Tina Smith has drawn a woman as her election opponent. And this particular woman, state Sen. Karin Housley, is well-known statewide.”

Woman vs. woman, blah, blah, blah. That storyline isn’t interesting to anyone outside of the establishment media. There’s no such thing as the proverbial “glass ceiling” anymore no matter how many times liberals insist there is one. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because of her gender – she lost because she was awful, arrogant and elitist – and a big government leftist.

Hinderaker’s article indicates Housley possesses several built-in advantages, most notably being the wife of Minnesota native and NHL hall of famer Phil Housley. Phil is on the campaign trail with Karin before hockey season starts, which will certainly help make up for the challenger’s fundraising disadvantage. Despite being an (appointed) incumbent, Smith apparently isn’t well-known statewide and isn’t overly adept at retail campaigning. The senator clings to a small polling lead but the real election “season” hasn’t even commenced yet.

As a reliable blue state on cable news election night maps you might assume Minnesota is a midwestern version of Massachusetts or Vermont – but not true. Just as nearby states (Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa) began a slow migration towards the GOP – or at least to competitive status – Minnesota has been moving in that direction as well. Being personally familiar with it (my mom grew up there a few miles from Walter Mondale’s hometown) I know the Gopher State is not nearly as liberal as it appears to the uneducated observer.

Minnesota’s stayed reliably Democratic nationally because of an extremely robust state Democrat (Farm Labor) party and the population’s natural “underdog” mindset. Back in the days when Democrats were viewed as representing the “little man,” Minnesota could be seen as the epicenter of such a mentality. The state’s strong work ethic paired well with an unbreakable civic spirit. Democrats were able to convince people that they best embodied the ideal.

Not anymore. Signs are everywhere Minnesota is finally awakening from its decades-long liberal political slumber. The state has a liberal Democrat governor (former Sen. Mark Dayton, himself up for reelection this year) and a deadlocked state senate (33 apiece with one vacant seat) but the GOP holds a 20-seat majority in the assembly.

Does this mean Housley actually has a chance to add to the GOP’s numbers in the federal upper chamber? Who can say. We’ll know more in a couple months.

But the lesson for Republicans campaigning in Minnesota is the same as it is for everywhere else – nationalize the election, stupid! If local GOP hopefuls wage a goody-bidding war with Democrats they’ll lose every time. The old saying “all politics is local” may be true for statewide offices, legislatures and the town’s mayoral race but it doesn’t offer much relevance in a time when national issues dominate the landscape in federal elections.

Immigration is very much of a national concern and it’s on the minds of every conservative from sea to shining sea this year. And yes, a place like Minnesota (or the Midwest in general) has its immigration related issues too. Lest you forget there’s a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) Muslim refugee enclave in the Twin Cities and the state’s agricultural economy guarantees a huge demand for low wage workers needed for labor intensive industries such as meat-packing, dairy farming or crop handling.

Combines do the corn and soybean harvesting but human hands still do the meat processing. It’s unavoidable.

President Trump galvanized the country two years ago by highlighting national issues that turned would-be apathetic fence-sitters into motivated activists. People simply won’t open their wallets to contribute or walk precincts to thank Republicans for passing a tax cut last year. That’s old news and its benefits, though substantial, will not fully be visible for some time.

Immigration problems, on the other hand, are on everyone’s front doorstep, as are issues such as law enforcement (crime) and more tangentially, national security. These are all topics Republican candidates should be embracing with open arms and pounding relentlessly at every campaign stop. My advice: quit listening to the establishment consultants and get busy talking to the people about the themes that matter most to them.

President Trump gets it. He’s going all out on the Democrats’ assault on ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), a campaign strategy that should be emulated by all Republicans. W. James Antle III wrote in the Washington Examiner, “President Trump believes the Democrats are vulnerable on immigration and crime ahead of the midterm elections, so he keeps highlighting those issues in the run-up to November.

“You can see it in presidential tweets endorsing or opposing candidates. The Democrats are invariably ‘weak on borders’ and crime while his preferred Republican is ‘strong.’ Trump has even called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., an ‘MS-13 lover.’ It was true again at the White House on Monday where he showered federal immigration authorities with praise.

“’Blue wave means crime. It means open borders. Not good,’ Trump said of potential Democratic victories in the fall. The president held the event as he and other Republicans try to capitalize on Democratic calls for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

As would be expected the establishment chattering class is counseling caution against going overboard on the immigration issue, predicting too tough of a stance might scare away moderate voters in swing districts. They say Trump is making the GOP appear anti-immigrant, which independents won’t like.

Here’s thinking should the GOP brain trust tailor talking points for party candidates based on what it believes the white suburban woman demographic wants to hear the party will lose catastrophically on Election Day. Leave identity politics to Democrats – they’re good at it. To win in November, Republicans must mimic Trump’s approach – pick a few issues and keep talking about them.

Talk about them on morning radio programs; speak to grassroots groups about them at mid-day meet-and-greet lunches and then go over them again at evening campaign rallies and appearances on Fox News. Use social media to touch on them too. Sooner or later citizens will get the message – “these issues are what I’m all about.”

The more times a candidate mentions “ICE”, “crime” and “border security/border wall” the better off he or she will be at the ballot box. A small percentage of “independent” voters could be turned off by this single-minded focus but the party gains a lot more than it concedes by demonstrating that its members actually believe in something. If voters sense a candidate would merely maintain the status quo in the mosquito-infested DC swamp, he or she is finished.

How many election failures will it take to teach the ruling class that constantly playing to the lowest common denominator and the political “center” is a losing strategy? Hypothetically speaking, if a swing district has 20 percent of voters up for grabs (including those who might not otherwise participate) then all you have to do is convince 10 percent plus one to pull the lever for your candidate.

Will this be accomplished by overselling what you did last year or how “bipartisan” you’d be in Congress or how much you relish “working together with Democrats to solve problems?” Who cares about any of that stuff. People want results they can see, not vague assurances that conditions will improve if you’re voted into office. The economy is doing great – but would the average person be inspired by the promise of an extra percentage point of GDP?

Heck no. Trump realizes it. Common sense is all that’s needed to conduct a winning campaign. Nationalize the election – today.

GOP candidates would also do well to emphasize judicial confirmations again this year too. The Editors of the Washington Examiner wrote the other day, “Republican efforts to restore the judiciary to sanity and the rule of law depend on conservatives getting out and voting this fall. If Republicans lose control of the Senate, Trump will have to spend the two years that follow cutting deals with Democrats to fill judicial vacancies — something he might end up all too willing to do. He may be forced to appoint several liberals to satisfy them. And if he refuses, they may even simply decide not to confirm any of his judges at all, as payback for Republicans blocking Merrick Garland.

“For Republicans who support Trump wholeheartedly, the need to help his party maintain congressional power should be obvious. But even for those Republicans who have never warmed to Trump, and perhaps voted for him only with the deepest reluctance if at all. For them, the so-called ‘But Judges’ argument from 2016 applies much more clearly to a 2018 Senate race than it did to Trump’s election.”

Too true. The prospect of appointing Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor was a major contributor to Trump’s 2016 victory for thousands if not millions of people and the importance of populating the judiciary hasn’t waned in the time since.

In consultation with groups such as the Federalist Society, Trump has proven exceptionally reliable on judicial appointments. Even the most ardent #NeverTrumper must admit their pre-election concerns have been erased in this area. This year a few critical senate races could determine the future outcomes of dozens if not hundreds of court vacancies. What’s at stake? The very direction of the country.

Republicans should take comfort that the fate of their congressional majorities rests in their own hands this year if they’ll only cast off the advice of the “experts” and follow the lead of President Trump. GOP candidates must nationalize the election by hitting hard on the issues people care about most.










Reprinted with permission from

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