President Donald Trump is making an aggressive campaign swing in the final four days before the midterm elections, rallying for Republican candidates all around the country. But for all his bluster and confidence, Trump let slip some doubts about the GOP’s ability to hold the House.
“It could happen,” Trump said of Democrats taking control of the lower chamber in West Virginia Friday evening. “We’re doing very well,” he said, before amending: “We’re doing really well in the Senate.”
He offered the crowd assembled in a chilly airport hangar in Huntington, West Virginia his mantra for what happens if Democrats win: “Don’t worry about it,” the president said. “I’ll just figure it out.”
Later at the same rally, Trump brought the possibility of losing the House up again, in sharp contrast to his previous boasts of a “red wave” in November. But this time, he added that it wouldn’t be his fault. “I’m not saying [Democrats] don’t squeak it by, maybe, because they got a lot of races,” he said. “I can’t go everywhere.”
It certainly seems like he’s trying to. Trump has emerged as an incredibly engaged campaigner for Republican candidates this cycle, diligently crisscrossing the country and hosting multiple rallies per week leading up to the midterms to try to energize the Republican base and counter enthusiasm on the left. On Nov. 2 he rallied in both West Virginia and Indiana, and the following day will appear in Montana and Florida before two more days of busy campaigning ahead of Election Day.
But history isn’t on the president’s side when it comes to midterms.
For all midterm elections since 1946, the president’s party lost an average of 25 House seats, according to Gallup. That average is even worse for presidents with approval ratings below 50%, as Trump has: Gallup found that presidents with job approval ratings below that threshold have lost an average of 37 House seats in midterm elections. This year, Republicans will lose control if they lose 23 seats.
Republicans have rosier prospects in the Senate, where they have a razor-thin majority of 51 seats and are hoping to pick up more. Trump’s back-to-back rallies in West Virginia and Indianapolis, Indiana on Friday demonstrated the nuances in how he attacks Democratic incumbents — in this case, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly— by tailoring his message to them personally but then tying them to their party leadership.
Manchin is a moderate Democrat in a deep red state; he was the only Democrat to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. “I like Joe,” Trump acknowledged. “The problem is, I’m just not going to get his vote.” Despite Manchin having been the only Democrat to cross the aisle on Kavanaugh, Trump still criticized him for not being stronger in his support and waiting to announce his position until Kavanaugh had already secured enough votes otherwise. “I said Joe, that doesn’t count!” Trump recalled. “Because if we would have needed the vote, it was not going to happen.”
Still, Trump’s strongest argument for West Virginians to elect Republican Patrick Morrisey, the state’s attorney general, to replace Manchin is that in the end, Manchin still has a “D” by his name. “A vote for Joe is a vote for Schumer,” Trump said. “It’s a vote for a majority leader who will be not good.” And he tied Manchin to Hillary Clinton: “Joe was totally in her camp,” Trump said. “That sort of tells you.”
Trump had a similar strategy for bashing one of the Senate’s most endangered members, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, who is running against Republican candidate Mike Braun: link Donnelly to Democratic party leadership, who inevitably draw hearty boos from Trump’s crowds. “It’s no surprise that Joe Donnelly is holding a rally this weekend with Barack H. Obama,” Trump said, emphasizing the middle initial, before criticizing his predecessor. (Obama is set to campaign for Donnelly on Nov. 4.)
“I need the people to send a message to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and the radical Democrats,” Trump said, “by voting for Mike Braun.”
Despite managing expectations for the House as he worked hard on the Senate, Trump warned Republican voters Friday about what’s at stake if he finds himself with a divided government after Nov. 6. “If Chuck Schumer—’Cryin’ Chuck’— and Nancy Pelosi, and the legendary Maxine Waters take power, they will try to erase our gains and eradicate our progress,” Trump said in West Virginia, to boos from the crowd. “It will be ridiculous, frankly.”