Power Up: ‘We were very clear-eyed about what we faced.’ NRCC aide reflects on House loss

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A few things broke overnight: In a major blow to the Trump administration, a federal judge blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — at least temporarily. And Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema took a slight lead over GOP Rep. Martha McSally in the Arizona Senate race after roughly 127,000 votes were tallied in Maricopa County. There are more votes outstanding. And Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN she has “total confidence” confidence she’ll be the new House speaker.

On The Hill

ON LOSING THE HOUSE: Power Up touched base yesterday with Matt Gorman, the communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee,  to reflect on his party’s loss of the House majority. The campaign veteran credited Democrats with recruiting candidates that appealed to suburban women and discussed how Democrats used Trump’s “barbell” approval ratings to their advantage. The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ll hear on Monday from his counterpart at the Democratic Congressional Committee, Meredith Kelly.

Q: Why did Republicans lose the House and how do you come back? More specifically, why did women flee the party?

A: Republicans faced a tough environment and historic head winds. We were very clear-eyed about what we faced — even in January 2017. We knew this was going to be a cycle where the Democratic base was chomping at the bit to avenge their 2016 loss. The gender gap was an absolute challenge for us. I think the Democrats recruited compelling candidates that appealed to suburban women. However, now the rubber meets the road since their rhetoric turns to a voting record.

Q: Can you speak to the Trump effect on House races — where did his visits help and where did they hurt? What’s the data on how the caravan messaging resonated with voters?  

A: President Trump’s approval ratings looks like a barbell. A ton of people love him and a ton of people don’t like him so much . . . What we learned in the specials is that we can use him to motivate our base. The people that don’t like him were always going to come out. We needed to make sure those that loved him did, too. We used him in targeted robo-calls and in cities that galvanized our base.

And immigration was always an issue for us. We ran ads on it in states far from the southern border, like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and even Orange County, California, districts Hillary Clinton won.

Q: Seems like the midterms laid bare the urban-rural divide. Do you see this as a problem for House Republicans going forward?

A: I’m skeptical about drawing too many conclusions from one bad election cycle. It seems to be an annual rite of passage to see an elephant or a donkey on the cover of TIME magazine proclaiming the party dead. It’s clear, however, that voters are self-sorting in ways unlike ever before. Republicans live near other Republicans and Democrats live near other Democrats.

Q: On losing ground in the Midwest, where Trump had converted many lifelong Democrats: will those voters return to Republicans and can they win again across the Midwest?

A: It’s important to remember this next election will be a choice: President Trump versus what’s likely to be a very liberal Democrat. Much like the contrast between Trump and Hillary helped us in the Midwest in 2016, the contrast between a Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders or Michael Avenatti (lol) will give voters a very clear choice.

Q: When Democrats were walloped in the 2010 (and subsequent) midterms, many promising party upstarts lost their seats and the Democrats’ bench really suffered. Are you worried about the same effect on Republicans?

A: It wasn’t just 2010 that crushed the Democrats’ bench. It was the systematic indifference President Obama gave to actually building the Democratic Party. The losses sustained by Democrats at the state level happened over the course of six to eight years — in spite of the fact they were still winning Senate and House races and governorships up-and-down the ballot. Losing the House does not beget a weak bench.

Q: How do you think anti-gerrymandering measures and Democratic wins in statehouses will affect redistricting in the years ahead?

A: Redistricting will be a major issue coming up. Democrats finally understand the stakes. And they’ve actually taken it too far. What they did in Pennsylvania earlier this year redrawing the congressional lines was an absolute abomination. A partisan Supreme Court — who ran on this issue — drew the lines and changed the fortunes of Republicans in that state overnight. Republicans will fight. You can be assured of that.


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At the White House

TRUMP BUMP?: With Trump claiming credit for GOP gains in the Senate, it’s worth taking a look at the effects of a presidential campaign visit. 

In Texas, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayla McInerney claimed on CNN earlier this week that Trump’s visit to Houston at the end of October was a boon for the embattled Republican senator, who pulled out a tough race with Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D).

But a source with knowledge of the Cruz campaign’s inner workings told Power Up that Trump’s visit actually had the opposite effect. 

  • Take Texas: After the president’s Houston rally two weeks ago, Cruz went from being up by 12 points to being locked in a five-point race, said our source. Cruz ultimately beat O’Rourke by three points.

  • Bad blood: Trump’s visit re-injected long-simmering tensions between the president and Cruz into the media bloodstream. For the first time in the campaign, the phrase “Lyin’ Ted” and the conspiracy theory pushed by Trump in 2016 that Cruz’s father was part of the assassination plot to kill John F. Kennedy appeared in the campaign’s verbatims. A verbatim is an open-ended description provided by a respondent in a survey. 

Global Power

MACRON-TRUMP COURTSHIP CONTINUES: It appears Trump has most definitely stopped taking the advice of his friend “Jim,” because Paris seems to be his favorite international destination. The president will head to the City of Lights to attend President Emmanuel Macron’s Armistice Day Ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

  • Selective attendance: Macron will be hosting the Paris Peace forum over the weekend, aimed at global solutions to problems like climate change. Trump is not slated to join.

  • Tête-à-tête: The Post’s David Nakamura reports Macron and Trump will meet Saturday “to discuss areas of tension, including Trump’s decision to withdraw . . . from the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran, as well as the security situation in Syria and, potentially, trade relations … the president has no other bilateral meetings scheduled, though he could speak informally with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin during a luncheon, aides said, mostly aimed at setting up a formal meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires this month.”

  • History lesson?: Observers said the setting, designed to commemorate those who perished in WWI might resonate with the president. “The losses were extraordinary. We witnessed some of the most horrific scenes that we’ve understood and the terrible cost that comes with that … it’s a reminder of what happens when society breaks down into conflict,” Heather Conley, a senior vice president of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, told Power Up.

  • Limits: Macron’s approach to appealing to the francophile in Trump seems to have its limits. A year-and-a-half into their relationship, not even fancy dinners at the Eiffel tower has bridged their policy differences.

In the Media

HOMETOWN HEADLINES: While the national media counted midterm results as either wins or losses for the parties, it was easy to lose sight of the real-life implications for the local people and places. Here’s how local newspapers in five states covered their most important races:

  • Florida: A banner headline in Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times captured a typical Florida Election Day mood, pronouncing the state’s gubernatorial contest “ANOTHER NAIL-BITER.” The accompanying story took stock of the loss on the left that is “sure to leave Democrats shattered.” Among the consequences: “Gov.-Elect [Ron] DeSantis also will appoint three state Supreme Court justices and shift the court rightward for a generation.”

  • Georgia: The double-decker headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday made clear that, even two days after the election, the dust still hadn’t settled in Georgia: “KEMP CLAIMS VICTORY; ABRAMS PRESSES ON.” Beneath that, though, the paper examined the question of why “hundreds of voting machines sat unused, locked up in government warehouses,” as voters waited in hours-long lines across the state.

  • North Dakota: On the day after the midterms, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead devoted the top half of its front page to a photo of [Sen. Heidi] Heitkamp hugging her husband during her concession speech. The next day, two maps showing how the state’s counties voted in 2012 (when Heitkamp was first elected) and in 2018 displayed the state’s rightward lurch, with GOP support holding strong in the westernmost parts of the state and spreading east, all the way to two of its last blue outposts, Grand Forks and Fargo, on the Minnesota line.

  • Ohio: The Cincinnati Enquirer examined its state’s future on A1 Thursday, using an honorific that’s sure to please Republicans everywhere: “Red Ohio stays in GOP hands the next 4 years.” The story began, “Forget about a blue wave. In midterm elections, Ohio is a red state,” citing Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine’s win and more: “Republicans swept the four down-ticket races. The GOP is expected to retain a veto-proof majority in the state Legislature.”

  • Texas: Two days after the results, the Austin American Statesman ran a map on its front page with a county-by-county vote breakdown. The accompanying story invoked the Old Testament to describe the race’s implications for Democrats there: “[O’Rourke] didn’t make it to the promised land in his bid to unseat [Cruz] . . . but he did lead Texas Democrats to the Red Sea where they could witness the waters begin to part.”

Outside the Beltway

‘LIKE HELL’: That’s how Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean described the scene of the massacre at a Thousand Oaks, Calif. bar Wednesday night. A gunman entered a popular nightspot in the southern California city and fired seemingly at random, killing 12 people, including a sheriff’s deputy who raced inside the bar to confront the attacker. It was the latest in a string of horrific mass shootings claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people. Here’s The Post’s frightful list of recent attacks: 

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