- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Democrats from the White House to the city council are gearing up to make this year’s midterm elections about former President Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” political movement.

Democratic candidates and liberal groups are increasingly invoking Mr. Trump and MAGA to create a contrast between themselves and Republicans ahead of the November elections. They are using the tactic in red states and blue states alike. 

“When we talk about going up against [Texas Gov.] Greg Abbott, we’re also talking about going up against Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running for Texas governor, told supporters in an email Tuesday. 

The strategy is partly aimed at reversing the flagging enthusiasm for Democrats and President Biden. Polling shows Mr. Biden’s job approval rating has hit record lows, and Republicans have continuously led Democrats on the generic congressional ballot. 

“This administration’s low job approval ratings combined with an utter inability to communicate our priorities, values, and successes will make it very difficult to run on Biden, which only leaves running against Donald Trump,” said Colin Strother, a Democratic political strategist who has operated several high-profile campaigns.

Although the political environment is arduous for Democrats, they hope the specter of Mr. Trump will boost turnout among the base and prevent defections from swing voters. 

“Last cycle, voters overwhelmingly rejected the toxicity, anger and chaos of the former president and his ilk, and Democrats ran well, particularly among suburban women — a group we desperately need to recapture to have any shot at a modicum of success in November,” Mr. Strother said. 

The strategy is also partially in response to recent events. A draft opinion leaked from the Supreme Court this month indicated that a majority of justices were in favor of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion nationwide.

Since the leak, Democrats have been eager to make abortion the leading issue of the midterms. Some senior Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, have even accused the three Supreme Court justices appointed by Mr. Trump of lying to Congress about their views on abortion. 

“Several of these conservative justices who are in no way accountable to the American people have lied to the U.S. Senate, ripped up the Constitution and defiled both precedent and the Supreme Court’s reputation,” he said.

Mr. Biden has joined the effort. He lashed out at Mr. Trump and his supporters during a White House press conference earlier this month. 

“This MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that’s existed in recent American history,”  Mr. Biden said. “Let me tell you about this ultra MAGA agenda: It’s extreme, as most MAGA things are.” 

Mr. Biden also coined the term “Ultra-MAGA” for a supposedly supercharged Trump-inspired movement that he said had taken over the Republican Party.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has since left the administration, insisted that Mr. Biden came up with the label.

“It’s the president’s phrase,” she told reporters at the White House. “I think what has struck him is how extreme some of the policies and proposals are, that a certain wing of the Republican Party, that is taking up too much of the Republican Party, are for.”

When tossing around the terms “MAGA” and “Ultra-MAGA,” Mr. Biden does not mention Mr. Trump by name. Few Democrats openly say Mr. Trump’s name when blasting the political movement associated with him.

Democrats hope that by painting all Republicans broadly with the MAGA brand they can make every race a referendum on Mr. Trump, regardless of the ideological leanings of the Republican candidate on the ticket. 

“This election is a choice between all of us who believe in and want to safeguard American democracy so that it works for everyone,” Rahna Epting, the executive director of MoveOn, recently told Politico. “And MAGA, which represents the radical right.” 

MoveOn, a far-left advocacy group committed to electing Democrats, plans to spend more than $30 million this cycle to make the midterms “about us versus MAGA.” 

The gambit is far from guaranteed to work.

Democrats lost the Virginia governor’s race last year despite trying to make the race a referendum on Mr. Trump and his “America First” agenda. 

Even though Democrats were running a popular former governor, Terry McAuliffe, their attempts to paint first-time Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin as a MAGA loyalist failed. The message did not resonate outside of large urban communities that were already safely in the Democratic column.

Mr. Youngkin, a former business executive, won the race by campaigning as a suburban family man worried about education and the economy. Exit polling from the race showed Republicans running better than expected in the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia, which trended heavily toward Democrats during Mr. Trump’s presidency. 

Still, the make-it-about-Trump ploy is attractive for a Democratic Party that controls Washington when the country is struggling with high inflation, soaring gasoline prices, fears of economic recession and a persistent COVID-19 pandemic.

Republicans say Democrats have excessively focused on Mr. Trump because the party has few accomplishments to show for its 18 months in power. 

“Democrats control the White House, House and Senate, yet point to Republicans for the multiple crises they’ve created,” said Will O’Grady, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “Biden can try and blame Republicans, but voters know he is to blame for record-high gas prices, runaway inflation and an open southern border.”

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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