Politics & Government

Some Missouri GOP leaders could skip Trump visit

President Donald Trump struggles to hold a baby as he greets supporters as he arrives in Reno, Nevada. He’ll be heading to Missouri next week.
President Donald Trump struggles to hold a baby as he greets supporters as he arrives in Reno, Nevada. He’ll be heading to Missouri next week. AP

Some prominent Missouri Republicans could be notably absent when President Donald Trump visits Missouri next week, though most top officials will attend.

Attorney General Josh Hawley, who’s seeking a U.S. Senate seat, is taking a family vacation. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft wants to attend but “has appointments on his schedule which are at fixed times, and include travel,” his spokesperson said.

State Treasurer Eric Schmitt didn’t respond when asked if he’d join Trump on Wednesday in Springfield, Missouri.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Gov. Eric Greitens, and Lt. Gov. Michael Parson will be there. House Speaker Todd Richardson “is planning to attend but is awaiting further details on the president’s event to see if it fits into his schedule,” his spokesman said.

While the Missouri GOP publicly cheered news of Trump’s visit, a number of state lawmakers, aides and Republican operatives mused privately that officials would be looking for ways to load up their schedules to avoid attending Trump’s event.

But at least one Democrat is welcoming Trump: Sen. Claire McCaskill, who says she’s looking forward to working with the president on overhauling the tax code.

McCaskill faces a tough re-election battle in a state where Trump defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by nearly 19 points in November. She’s widely considered the most vulnerable Senate Democrat in 2018.

Trump’s event in Springfield, which a White House official said would focus on rallying support for cutting taxes, comes after a series of town halls McCaskill held earlier this week in the same pro-Trump area of the state. McCaskill was at pains to stress that her job in Congress isn’t to fight the president but rather to fight for Missourians, which sometimes means working with Trump.

“I’ve talked in a lot of my town halls about my support for simplifying the tax code by cleaning out loopholes and goodies for special interests, and lowering the corporate tax rate – as long as we’re doing it all through the lens of strengthening Missouri’s working families,” McCaskill said in a statement on Friday. “So I welcome President Trump to Missouri, and I’m looking forward to working with him to make bipartisan tax reform a reality.”

The administration’s choice of Missouri as a venue for Trump to tout his promised tax cuts signals the political importance of Missouri as a key battleground in 2018.

But it also reveals some of the deep fault lines within the GOP in Missouri and nationally over Trump, who hasn’t been shy about attacking members of his own party over everything from congressional leaders’ inability to repeal Obamacare to Republican lawmakers who question his state of mind.

Former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth urged his fellow Republicans on Friday to disavow Trump and avoid joining him during his visit to the state.

“Nobody’s asked for my advice. I’m not in the business of being the scold … But I do feel very, very strongly that Donald Trump corrupts the Republican Party, that he corrupts the spirit of everything that we are,” Danforth, a Republican who represented Missouri in the Senate for two decades, said in an interview on Friday.

Blunt, on the other hand, released a statement Friday afternoon saying that he is glad that Trump will be visiting his “hometown of Springfield to highlight the economic benefits that tax reductions and other pro-growth policies will have for Missouri families, farmers, and small businesses.” Blunt’s office confirmed that he will join the president if invited to attend the event.

“Trump complicates the ongoing Republican civil war because it’s not really ideological, it’s so centered on loyalty to Trump that it makes it difficult to figure out,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, nonpartisan publication that analyzes congressional races.

Trump’s visit and the intraparty divisions it exposes put Hawley in a particularly awkward spot, Gonzales said. Danforth is a Hawley mentor who encouraged him to run against McCaskill for Senate. But Hawley also needs Trump voters to win statewide.

“There's a lot of pressure on Hawley to perform as a Senate candidate and this is one of Republicans' top takeover opportunities so there's pressure to deliver,” he said. “He's going to need every Republican voter in the state whether its Trump Republicans or Danforth Republicans. You can't beat Claire McCaskill with just one part of the Republican party.”

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise