Beyond the Bubble

GOP’s suburban playbook: Ignore base, court the middle in midterms to hold majorities

GOP strategist Liam Donovan records an August 14, 2018 episode of Beyond the Bubble podcast at McClatchy’s Washington bureau.
GOP strategist Liam Donovan records an August 14, 2018 episode of Beyond the Bubble podcast at McClatchy’s Washington bureau. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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WASHINGTON — To put the brakes on a possible blue wave, a political strategist who worked on Republican midterms campaigns under the past two presidents says the GOP must find a way to entice suburbanites who dislike President Donald Trump.

That could mean limiting Trump as a campaign tool to fire up the base, even as Republicans raise concerns about low enthusiasm headed into this November’s election, former Senate campaign operative Liam Donovan told Beyond the Bubble Tuesday.

“The people who will be deciding the election in November are people that might not be excited about the president, but still lean Republican or have in the past,” Donovan said.

“There’s going to be a base vote that needs to be turned out, and it’s a matter of pushing the right buttons without repelling the other side,” he added.

Democrats need to flip 23 GOP-held seats to take control of the House. The party out of power in the White House typically picks up seats in midterm elections.

Donovan, who worked for the Republicans’ Senate campaign committee during President George W. Bush’s tenure, said his party has the advantage in a base that votes more reliably than Democrats in midterm elections. That could give the GOP the space it needs to focus on voters in the political middle, he added.

“The pendulum’s swung pretty hard, fast and in each direction which has meant that each successive midterm has been a wave in one way or another,” said Donovan.

“I think the hope is that the [GOP] base is going to turn out because it’s a [midterm] and that is what Republicans do,” he added.

Other Republicans are prescribing different solutions to motivate the base this fall.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, urged supporters at a conservative gathering in Austin earlier this month to focus on the positives of Trump’s presidency – not back away from his weaknesses.

Trump won Texas by 9 percentage points, but Hillary Clinton carried three congressional districts currently held by Texas Republicans.

Donovan pointed to two of those races in the Texas suburbs - those held by GOP Reps. John Culberson and Pete Sessions in particular - as places Republicans have the most to lose from Trump’s influence.

“Suburban women, suburban moms, those are the ones that are most put off by the president and most liable to hold it against Republicans,” Donovan said.

“Perhaps If you’re trying to communicate with Republican-leaning suburban women, maybe Ivanka [Trump is] out on the trail,” he added.

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, August 14, 2018.