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What's At Stake For President Trump With The Midterm Elections?


Midterm elections have often been seen as a referendum on the president and his party. Many presidents try to shy away from that idea. But not Donald Trump. He has a lot on the line next month, and he knows it, as NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: What does Donald Trump think is at stake on Election Day? Well, just about everything.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If the Democrats get in, they're going to raise your taxes. You're going to have crime all over the place. You're going to have people pouring across the border.

You will lose your right to those guns.

Going to ruin your Medicare - watch.

LIASSON: And that's not even the worst of it.


TRUMP: They want to turn America into Venezuela.

Democrats want anarchy. They really do.

LIASSON: Even for Trump, that's pretty alarmist. But according to Newt Gingrich, the president is right to be doing everything he can to scare his supporters into voting. Gingrich, who became House speaker when a Democratic president lost a midterm election, knows that midterms can have serious consequences for a White House.

NEWT GINGRICH: Losing the House is a problem. Losing the Senate's a catastrophe.

LIASSON: Another way to put it - no Senate, no judges; no House, no legislation.

GINGRICH: If you suddenly had McConnell in the minority and Schumer controlling the calendar, you would get virtually no judge approved. In the House, the big problem will be that they'll just have endless investigations of everybody.

LIASSON: Endless investigations, including possibly impeachment of everybody, meaning not just people in the West Wing but every Trump Cabinet official and agency head. Doug Heye is the former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

DOUG HEYE: Democrats are going to investigate this president in an intense way that we've never seen before. And Republicans were pretty intense on Barack Obama. This will take it to a 2.0 pretty quickly.

LIASSON: You mean like the Benghazi investigation on steroids?

HEYE: This is Benghazi in every committee, affecting every department and agency and also means that Trump's eye is necessarily going to be taken off the ball of job creation and doing those things that he should be able to tout to voters.

LIASSON: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says, on the other hand, if the Republicans hang on, then Trump's style of leadership is validated, and he has a free hand to do pretty much what he wants.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: If the Republicans are re-elected to the majority, it's a continuation of the president's policies and that means his opportunity to continue to get his "America First" agenda accomplished.

LIASSON: Other presidents who've lost control of Congress managed to find some areas of common ground with the opposition. Think Bill Clinton. Trump could try to do that, says former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove. But it will be harder now.

KARL ROVE: It is possible to triangulate, which is another way of saying of working across party lines and finding allies on particular issues. But we're talking about a climate today that is much different than the climate that we had 20 years ago. And so no, if the Democrats were to take control, it would be, you know, an ugliness that the country would not find tolerable after the next two years.

LIASSON: Some supporters of the president paint a different picture. If the Republicans lose the House, they say, Trump could use the Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi or her successor, as a foil and cruise to re-election the way Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did. But Corey Lewandowski isn't buying it.

LEWANDOWSKI: I've heard people say that. And whoever says that should be summarily fired because, clearly, they have no understanding of how politics works. I think this president and his agenda and what he's been able to accomplish, he's only been able to do because the Republicans have been in office.

LIASSON: One thing both Democrats and Republicans agree on is that this White House is just not prepared for the consequences of losing. Former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala says no White House really is.

PAUL BEGALA: They have no idea what it feels like. I do. We lost 56 House seats. Go ask the Obama people what it felt like when they lost 63. It's a gut punch. There's a very real psychological and political price.

LIASSON: Part of that price - the rock-solid hold President Trump has on the Republican Party in Congress could be shaken.

BEGALA: Trump rules his party by fear. They're going to fear him a lot less if they get their butts kicked. He loses so much.

LIASSON: So for Donald Trump, whose entire persona is about always winning, the November election could be the first time he's a loser - or not.

Mara Liasson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.