/Trump’s plan for the Dem debates: Make it about him

Trump’s plan for the Dem debates: Make it about him

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump wants to stay the focus of attention as 2020 Democratic hopefuls duke it out for their party’s nomination. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

2020 elections

The president aims to suck up as much oxygen as possible from the 20 Democratic presidential contenders debating in Miami.

Donald Trump wants his Democratic competitors for the White House to introduce themselves to the American public next week on his terms.

Ahead of the first two Democratic presidential primary debates next Wednesday and Thursday, the president and his political team are angling to dominate the news cycle with carefully released tidbits meant to keep the public hooked on the machinations of the commander in chief. This will range from the president sitting down for an extended interview with an anchor from Noticias Telemundo, who is also a moderator of the Democratic debates, to an announcement by the vice president next Tuesday in Miami — where the Democrats are holding their debates — that unveils a list of prominent Latino and Hispanic supporters. And on the night of the first debate, Trump himself might live-tweet the debates as he flies on Air Force One to Japan for the G-20.

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Just as Trump has dictated so much of the political narrative over the last four years, the president’s team is hoping the two Democratic debates simply morph into liberal candidates reacting to the president instead of putting forward their own visions for the country, policy proposals or personal stories. The blunt reality, Trump’s allies say, is that a Trump tweet can quickly overtake most actions by any one Democratic presidential candidate — an exasperating scenario for Democrats.

“Donald Trump knows how to dominate the media landscape like no other candidate in history, whether he’s bringing up a new issue or branding an opponent or adversary. The media can’t help but react to his statements and tweets,” said Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary and communications director.

In particular, the Trump campaign wants to illustrate the president’s support among Hispanic voters in Florida, a key swing state where the Democratic debates will be held and where both parties are vying for votes.

To that end, Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak Tuesday at an event in Miami where he will unveil a coalition of top Hispanic supporters and business executives, according to four people familiar with the schedule. The campaign is still finalizing the exact list, assembled by campaign staffer Sandra Benitez, but it is expected to include Houston businessman Rick Figueroa and Orange County entrepreneur Mario Rodriguez, among others.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign declined to comment.

The goal, those close to Trump say, is to show top Trump officials actively courting a key demographic group just two days before Democrats take the stage to spar with one another, said one Republican close to the campaign.

Locking down Hispanic votes could also help the Trump campaign expand the electoral map in 2020, said one Trump supporter.

“Hispanics massively outperformed expectations in the 2016 election for Trump, and will likely prove even more critical in 2020,” said Steve Cortes, president of Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council. “Rising Hispanic pro-Trump sentiment can solidify key Trump states, especially Florida and Arizona, and potentially flip other blue states like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.”

That same day, Trump is slated to speak to a long-planned fundraising dinner in Washington, D.C., for the Republican National Committee — an event intended to bolster the campaign’s preferred image that Trump is far ahead of any individual Democratic candidates in terms of fundraising.

The RNC announced Wednesday — just after his reelection launch rally Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla. — that Trump had raised $24.8 million in a 24-hour period, without specifying the exact timing for raking in that specific figure. That haul far exceeds the fundraising dollars any Democratic candidates raised following their own campaign launches.

The two-part Democratic debates kick off Wednesday night, an event that all of Trump’s political advisers expect him to watch closely and offer up reaction.

Several of Trump’s top political advisers would like the president to sit out live-tweeting the debates, according to two Republicans close to the White House, yet they are also realistic enough to realize Trump will do whatever he wants.

And Trump has shown that his in-the-moment tweets can even change the direction of high-profile events.

During a House hearing in March 2017, Trump’s Twitter account shared a misleading clip from then-FBI chief James Comey and former NSA head Mike Rogers, indicating that they had said Russia “did not influence [the] electoral process.” Within minutes, a Democratic congressman was reading the tweet aloud, asking Comey to reaffirm that the intelligence community reached no conclusion on whether a widespread Russian meddling campaign affected the outcome of the 2016 election.

“It certainly was not our intention to say that today, because we do not have any information on that subject,” Comey said. “That’s not something that was looked at.”

Trump’s allies said the president’s tweets could lead to a similar situation during the Democratic debates, yet again making the narrative about Trump and not the Democrats.

“It would not shock me if one of the moderators of the debate asked a Democrat about one of the president’s tweets and somehow then Trump became an even bigger part of the night,” said one Republican close to the White House.

Top campaign and political advisers have been urging the president instead to cast the wide field of Democrats in broad brushstrokes as socialists. They want him to brand the Democrats as uniform supporters of sweeping policies like Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal — progressive ideas that could pull more centrist Democrats to the left.

They’ve also tried and failed to convince Trump to avoid calling out specific candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden, to mixed results.

There’s a prevailing view among top advisers that the president should save that specific name-calling and verbal ammunition for the general election, or once the Democratic nominee becomes clear.

“Everyone says, ‘Get him off Twitter,’ but the president seems to know when to push things and when he goes too far, how to use Twitter to get things back on track,” the Republican close to the White House added.

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