President Trump unveiled his informal 2018 campaign slogan a week ago at a rally in Montana.
“This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense,” Trump told the audience. “That’s what it’s going to be. It’s going to be an election of those things, law and order, Kavanaugh, you remember common sense, and remember it’s going to be an election of the caravan. You know what I’m talking about.”
The next night in Arizona, he added to the list.
"It will be the election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, tax cuts,” he said. “We forget about tax cuts all the time. And common sense. But we forget about tax cuts."
The next night in Nevada and then two nights later in Texas and then another two nights later in Wisconsin, that was the list. Hammering the point, over and over — but not just by mentioning the issues at rallies. Trump has also forced the issue by leveraging the power of the presidency.
Over the weekend, he floated the idea that the Republican majority in Congress might somehow magically pass a new tax cut aimed at the middle class before Election Day, despite Congress not being in session (or in D.C., for that matter). It was a tacit admission that last year’s cuts, once seen as a boon to his party in the midterm elections, weren’t playing that role. If you want tax cuts to be a central part of your campaign rhetoric, you need cuts that people will find appealing. Ergo, his announcement — which caught his staff off-guard, as they rushed to figure out how to make something real out of his declaration.
From one standpoint, though, the announcement worked: On Oct. 22, 2 percent of the 15-second segments on Fox Business Network included a mention of tax cuts. On Fox News proper, it was lower, but the media was talking about the idea, even if only in the context of how unfeasible it was.
Trump had much better luck with his focus on the caravan — a group of people heading north from Honduras, many of whom plan to seek asylum in the United States. Trump and his allies have hammered on the caravan for days, with Trump, among other things, claiming that it harbored criminals and “Middle Easterners” apparently bent on harming America. He threatened to send troops to the border. The Post reported Thursday that the administration would seek to bar asylum seekers from entering the country. Another report from Texas Monthly indicates that the administration is releasing migrant families from custody, possibly putting a visible strain on local communities.
This is a president whose mastery of media attention helped propel him to the Republican nomination and, then, the White House. We can read between the lines here to figure out Trump’s goal: Keep the subjects he sees as important at the forefront of the public conversation before Election Day. Use that ability to direct the media’s attention to his political benefit. As our Josh Dawsey reports, “Trump’s calculus is that Democrats won’t debate him on immigration — and that it will prove a decisive winner for him.” Talk about immigration and win.
As of Friday morning, we don't need to read between the lines that this is Trump's strategy. In a tweet, he confirmed it.
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows — news not talking politics,” Trump wrote. “Very unfortunate, what is going on.”
The president thinks that the “very unfortunate” aspect of more than a dozen potentially explosive devices being sent to his political enemies is that America is no longer talking about the issues he thinks will help Republicans win elections.
For the short term, at least, he's correct. The mail bombs quickly surpassed the conversation about the caravan and tax cuts on cable news networks.
Only on Fox Business was the caravan still a bigger subject of conversation Thursday than the mail bombs.
The shift in focus is certainly in part a function of the fact that news organizations were among those targeted by the person sending the devices. But it’s also in part because the news moves to newer events as time passes (hence “news”) and that issues such as the caravan, slowly wending its way north, aren’t necessarily going to hold the public’s attention indefinitely.
Some good news for the president came shortly after his frustrated tweet: The FBI had a suspect in the attempted bombings in custody. That’s good news because of the fear that followed the devices' arrivals, of course. But it’s good news for Trump, too, because if the bombs stop arriving, the news will likely move on to something else.
Like the things he thinks will help his party hold Congress next month.
Update: During an event at the White house on Friday, Trump made this last point even more explicit.
A proposal to lower drug prices “didn’t get the kid of coverage is should have,” he said, because of the attempted bombings. After the arrest of a suspect, “maybe that [story] can start to disappear rapidly.”