Rep. Garland "Andy" Barr has a textbook plan to win reelection in his Lexington, Kentucky, district - focus every day on local issues, the GOP tax cut and the specter of Speaker Nancy Pelosi returning to power if Republicans like him lose in competitive seats.
But Donald Trump keeps happening, and then everything gets more complicated.
It has been a common pattern this summer for House Republican candidates around the country: Trump sparks local and national controversies around issues of trade, immigration and foreign policy that throw many of the most vulnerable House incumbents for a loop.
The latest episode in a summer of discontent for Barr and Republicans like him started Monday when Trump appeared to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials of election interference, brushing aside the assertions of U.S. intelligence agencies. Barr's spokeswoman told local reporters he had no comment Monday on Trump's behavior, as he was too busy preparing for a Wednesday hearing.
Barr's Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, immediately jumped on the moment to push a central argument to moderate voters by Democratic campaigns this year: the need for a new check on Trump's power, which she used Barr's silence to illustrate.
"I'm outraged by the president's actions and comments today," she promptly proclaimed on Twitter. "When will Republicans in Congress put the country before their political party and flat out condemn these actions?"
The impact hits unevenly: While members of Congress in safely Republican districts are free to always side with Trump, those serving in more moderate districts have repeatedly found themselves squeezed between their need to court Trump supporters and the friction his actions have prompted in their districts. Their fallback is often silence.
"I was hoping and many Republicans were hoping that we would spend the whole year talking about how the president's tax reform and regulatory agenda would take off," said Scott Jennings, a Republican consultant in Kentucky, who remains bullish on Barr's reelection. "Obviously other events have interceded."
None of this has dampened Trump's own desire to make himself a centerpiece of the fall campaign. White House officials are trying to book two or three days a week for much of the fall for Trump to travel, in line with previous presidents. He plans to hit Illinois and Iowa next week to talk about the economy and visit a steel mill, a White House official said.
Trump is determined to make trade part of the midterm discussion - even though many in the White House are skeptical that it is a good issue, particularly in battleground Midwestern states. "It's not like you are going to change his mind," one White House official said. "So we just have to message it the right way."
Two senior White House officials said they receive the most complaints from Republican incumbents and candidates on trade and the president's tariffs, as international retributions have begun to take a toll on the price of corn, soybeans and bourbon.
"At some point, the trade bubble will burst," a senior administration official said, suggesting that if Trump doesn't alter his course on trade Republicans will mount a more forceful pushback.
On another front, Trump's advisers admit privately that the rollout and cleanup of Trump's "zero-tolerance" family separation policy was botched by the administration in June, exacting unneeded political damage. But some aides, such as Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, have argued that many of the controversies of the summer won't resonate in the midterm elections.
The Democratic backlash to the separation policy was so extreme - including demands by some that the main domestic immigration agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, be abolished - that Republicans ultimately will benefit, Conway and others believe.
Another senior White House official noted that polls show Republicans still strongly back Trump, even on issues of trade and his performance with Putin. National polls also show that the share of voters saying the country is on the "right track" is about 40 percent - near the highs for Trump's tenure.
"As long as the economy is hot, the rest of the noise won't matter," this official said.
But such statements do little to ease the ever-present state of anxiety for many in Trump's own party.
"I'm always concerned. I wake up every morning and grab my phone," said one Republican midterm consultant, who requested anonymity to speak frankly. "With Obama, I was able to plan weeks in advance. With Trump, I am never sure what's coming next."
Democratic strategists, meanwhile, have told candidates to use the revolving controversies to drive enthusiasm among liberal base voters, a tactic that has shown up in fundraising totals for their candidates. In 11 of the 17 most competitive districts where Democratic candidates have already been selected, the Democrats outraised GOP incumbents in the second quarter, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Democrats also have pushed their argument against single-party control of government, particularly to moderate voters and nervous Trump supporters.
"Even Trump voters want representatives who think for themselves, who don't get led around by the nose," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster working on the midterm effort. "The fact that so many Republican candidates are being forced into these very tortuous noncommittal responses to Trump's excesses demonstrates to voters that they are not going to have the independence that voters want now."
That idea has become a central theme for some of the most competitive races, and it has even filtered into Democratic messaging on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. After initially signaling that they would oppose Kavanaugh around issues of abortion and health care, Senate leaders have lately shifted to focus on the nominee's views on presidential power, an issue that speaks to voter fears of Trump having too much unchecked control.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., one of the most vulnerable incumbents, struck that note in an ad. "I'm not going to be a rubber stamp for anybody," she says in the spot, noting that she will vote for Trump's initiatives if she agrees with them.
A television spot by Phil Bredesen, a Senate candidate in Tennessee, takes a similar tack. After praising Trump for his meeting with the North Korean leader, he pivoted to trade. "If he proposes something that is going to hurt Tennessee, I'll oppose it," Bredesen says, while standing in what appears to be a whiskey warehouse. "And these new tariffs will hurt us."
Polls show that the increased tariffs are marginally unpopular nationally, and the family separation policy has been widely panned.
Some Republicans have tried to use Trump's summer controversies to more clearly separate themselves from the president, following the Democratic approach by condemning Trump's behavior with what one Republican strategist describes as "the full two-by-four strategy."
Vulnerable Republican incumbents, such as Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, denounced Trump's family separation strategy as "immoral," while Rep. Will Hurd of Texas called the management of the separation "nuts" and wrote recently that Trump has "actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign."
"For members who have been reticent to criticize the president, it puts them in a tough position, because they have never done it before." Coffman's campaign manager, Tyler Sandberg, said of the president's behavior. "With Coffman, it is not in doubt because he has been doing it consistently."
But for most Republicans in competitive House seats, it is dangerous to directly criticize Trump.
First elected in 2012, Barr represents a district Trump won by 15 points in 2016, and internal Democratic polls show Trump still has positive job approval ratings there.
But Trump's recent trade actions have created local pushback, from the Toyota manufacturing facility that employs 8,000 and local bourbon producers, all targeted by China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union for retaliatory tariffs.
"Our main concern is the long-term effect, because you can't make bourbon overnight," said Eric Gregory, the president of the Kentucky Distillers Association. "Once you stop filling barrels, that also affects the barrel manufacturer and the corn grower."
Barr, whose office did not respond to requests for comment, has been forced to walk an awkward line, boasting of a recent ride on Air Force One with Trump while critiquing his actions. He set up a meeting between local whiskey makers and Vice President Pence, and he has retweeted Toyota's complaint that the tariffs could increase the cost to produce a Camry by $1,800.
"I certainly support the administration's objectives to promote fair and reciprocal trade," he told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a hearing July 12, as he tried to navigate between his competing political pressures. "I do have concerns that tariffs and retaliatory measures on American industries could very well suppress or even reverse the record level of growth and job creation."
His Democratic opponent, McGrath, a former Marine F/A-18 Hornet pilot, has tried to draw a contrast with Barr by running directly at controversies caused by Trump, casting herself as a fighter who will not behave like a cautious politician. She opposes the tariffs and family separation policies but has also been careful to call for secure borders and oppose the abolition of ICE.
McGrath's advisers say they are focused on winning over Trump supporters in the district. But rather than embrace the president's positions, she is trying to inhabit some of his style. Her aides point to the ways she is similar to Trump, as a political amateur, a fighter and someone who will buck the system.
"Barr is not the kind of guy who wants to take a position contrary to where his party is," said McGrath's campaign manager, Mark Nickolas. "She is occupying a lot of the same space that Trump is occupying in representing something that is not a part of our political system."
Republicans remain hopeful that Barr will hold on to the district, given the margin of victory Trump had in 2016 and his current financial advantage.
He just has to find a way to weather the storms emanating from the White House.
Late Tuesday, after Trump insisted that he had misspoken by taking Putin's side over U.S. intelligence claims, Barr belatedly released a statement on Facebook that called Russia "a bully and enemy of the United States" and said he agreed that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
His only mention of Trump came in passing, in reference to sanctions Barr supported. "I worked with my colleagues in Congress to pass a tough sanctions bill, signed by President Trump," he wrote.
He didn't mention that Trump had criticized the bill, at the time, as "seriously flawed" and said it contained "clearly unconstitutional provisions."
WASHINGTON - Executive time began early on Thursday, just after sunrise.
Feeling exasperated and feisty as he awoke in the White House residence, President Donald Trump firedoff his grievances on Twitter about how the media had been covering his Helsinki summit. And, refusing to be cowed, Trump gave national security adviser John Bolton an order: to schedule a second summit and officially invite Putin to visit Washington.
The two presidents had already discussed the likelihood of a follow-up meeting, but at Trump's direction Thursday morning, Bolton sprang into action to make it official, making an overture to the Kremlin. By midafternoon the White House announced that plans were underway for a fall summit in Washington.
The bulletin landed midway through a remarkably candid interview of Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats at the Aspen Security Forum that underscored the disconnect and tension on Russia policy between Trump and his administration. The intelligence chief criticized Trump's performance during the Helsinki summit and - taking a deep breath and then offering a prolonged grimace-laugh - made clear that he had no advance knowledge of the follow-up meeting with Putin.
"That's going to be special," Coats said wryly, as the crowd in Aspen, Colorado, rallied around him in sympathy for being left in the dark.
For Trump and his White House, the days that followed the Helsinki summit amounted to an unofficial Walk Back Week - a daily scramble of corrections and clarifications from the West Wing. Each announcement, intended to blunt the global fallout of the president's Russophilic performance in Helsinki, was followed by another mishap that only fueled more consternation.
Just as Trump prepared to decamp to his New Jersey golf course for the weekend and turn the page on a full week of Russia controversies, more bad news arrived Friday. Reports surfaced, first in The New York Times, that the FBI had a fall 2016 recording of Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, discussing payments to silence a former Playboy centerfold who alleged an extramarital affair with Trump.
This portrait of a tumultuous week in the White House amid growing concern over Trump's approach to Russia comes from interviews with a dozen administration officials and Trump confidants, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely recount private conversations.
The trouble started Monday in Helsinki, though the magnitude did not set in for Trump for several hours. He stepped offstage after his 46-minute, freewheeling news conference alongside Putin - in which he seemed to accept Putin's denial of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies - delighted with his own performance. The president felt he had shown strength, an impression buoyed by two friendly interviews he did with Fox News Channel personalities before boarding Air Force One to return home from the Nordic capital.
But roughly an hour into the flight, Trump's mood darkened and grim reality set in as he consumed almost universally negative cable news coverage and aides began reviewing pages upon pages of printed-out statements from fellow Republicans lambasting the president. Trump called his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to gripe, and he also huddled with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in his cabin at the front of the plane to strategize.
Much of the initial scrutiny focused on Trump taking the side of Putin over his own intelligence community, so Trump and his aides first settled on the president's sending a tweet that reiterated, "I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people."
But that did not silence the uproar, and aides knew they had a big problem.
Trump himself was flummoxed. He waxed on about his impressions of Putin up close - strong, smart and cunning, in Trump's assessment - and told associates that he viewed the Russian as a formidable adversary with whom he relishes interactions. He also was furious with the negative media coverage of a summit that he felt had been a clear success. And he complained to some about what he viewed as an undercovered angle of the election controversy: That the Democratic National Committee allowed its server to be hacked.
Trump further grumbled about the tough question he was asked by Jonathan Lemire, an Associated Press correspondent, wondering why that reporter had been called on rather than someone who might have asked an easier question.
Lemire asked whether Trump would denounce Russia's election interference to Putin's face, "with the whole world watching," and the president demurred. Aides tried to explain to Trump that nearly any journalist would have asked a similarly pointed question in that moment.
But, as one White House official said, "If you don't like the answer, you don't like the question."
The president still was not satisfied. Later in the week, he told CNBC, "I had some of these fools from the media saying, 'Why didn't you stand there, look him in the face, walk over to him, and start shouting at him?' I said, 'Are these people crazy? I want to make a deal.' "
On Tuesday morning, Trump told friends he did not understand what the big fuss was about. But his advisers understood. A coterie of them - including Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff John Kelly, counselor Kellyanne Conway, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, Bolton and Sanders - met with Trump to draft a statement he would deliver that afternoon seeking to clarify his Helsinki remarks.
Shine, new to his job, also wanted to change the narrative, and after a career as a Fox News executive, he focused on the imagery - eager for Trump to supplant the image of himself standing admiringly next to Putin with fresh content for cable news.
Trump personally reviewed first the transcript and then the video of his news conference and came up with the "double-negative" explanation that he ultimately provided - that when he said in Helsinki he saw no reason the election hackers "would" be Russian, he meant to say "wouldn't."
Initially, the president worried that his statement would be viewed as backing down or not toughing out the criticism - the sort of concessions he is loath to make. But senior advisers reassured him that if he had really meant to say that he didn't see why Russian wouldn't be to blame, he would be simply be offering a clarification, not caving.
Clouding Trump's judgment all week has been his apparent inability to distinguish between Russian "meddling," of which there is overwhelming evidence, and Russian "collusion" with the Trump campaign, which special counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating, and which the president insists did not happen.
"The biggest problem is that he believes meddling equals collusion," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "Nobody else believes that. I think he's very sensitive about going there because he thinks it undercuts his legitimacy."
By midweek Wednesday, some in Trump's orbit believed he would emerge relatively unscathed.
"This president has weathered countless storms, and I think his political obituary has been written countless times and has to be rewritten," former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said. "He has broken the mold when it comes to . . . what would have been a showstopper for any other politician."
But there were showstoppers still to come. At Wednesday's Cabinet meeting focused on the economy, as staffers were ushering reporters out of the room, ABC News' Cecilia Vega asked Trump whether he still believed the Russians were targeting the United States.
Amid the chaos, Trump looked at Vega and uttered one word: "No."
Sanders and other aides in the Cabinet Room didn't consider the president's comment an answer to Vega's question. But news organizations, including The Washington Post, alerted the news that Trump had yet again undermined his intelligence officials, who have been warning about active Russian threats. And the White House had a fresh crisis on its hands.
Sanders scrambled to reach the president, who had already departed for Joint Base Andrews to greet the family of a Secret Service agent whose remains were being returned from Scotland. The agent died after suffering a stroke in Scotland while there as part of the president's support team. The press secretary delayed her afternoon briefing until after she had conferred with Trump, and relayed the president's response.
"I talked to the president," Sanders told reporters. "He wasn't answering that question. He was saying, no, he's not taking questions."
But there was another problem for the administration. Sanders was questioned about Putin's proposal that Mueller visit Moscow to interrogate Russian hacking suspects in exchange for Russians interrogating U.S. officials, including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Trump had called Putin's proposal an "interesting idea," and Sanders did not rule it out - even though the State Department had dismissed it as "absurd."
"The president will work with his team and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front," said Sanders, who was careful not to declare policy from the lectern before first discussing the matter with Trump.
The episode revealed a naivete on the part of the president. White House aides fretted that Trump did not recognize the massive diplomatic and security implications of turning Americans over to an autocratic regime that jails and kills dissidents. State Department and National Security Council officials, and others, realized there would need to be another cleanup.
In a meeting Thursday morning, Trump's national security team saw that the president was mostly focused on the sending-Mueller-to-Moscow part of the proposal - and not on a quid pro quo interrogation of a former U.S. ambassador. They focused him on the full scope of Putin's suggestion, restating just why it was so problematic.
Later, after discussing the matter with Trump, Sanders issued the president's final verdict, saying he disagreed with Putin's proposal, which she said had been "made in sincerity."
Meanwhile, in a senior staff meeting, Conway pointed out to the team that Coats would be sitting down for an interview with NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell before a gathering of thought leaders and media elite in Aspen. Conway warned her colleagues that Coats could generate headlines - and she was prescient.
The White House had little visibility into what Coats might say. The intelligence director's team had turned down at least one offer from a senior White House official to help prepare him for the long-scheduled interview, pointing out that he had known Mitchell for years and was comfortable talking with her.
Coats was extraordinarily candid in the interview, at times questioning Trump's judgment - such as the president's decision to meet with Putin for two hours without any aides present beyond interpreters - and revealing the rift between the president and the intelligence community. The spectacle was all the more surprising considering that Coats is nicknamed "Marcel Marceau," after the French mime, in national security circles because the director so rarely opines as he did with Mitchell.
Coats' comments were received poorly inside the West Wing, where Trump advisers saw him as playing to his elite audience in Aspen at the expense of the president. One senior White House official said, "Coats has gone rogue," and recalled another colleague suggesting, "He may as well just have said he was DNI for Obama."
A U.S. official pushed back on the criticism, saying it is "not in Coats' DNA" to seek the spotlight and that he would never try to embarrass the president.
In a statement issued Saturday, Coats said, "My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the President."
Still, the incongruous split-screen was striking. As the White House was brought low, struggling to emerge from a seemingly endless week of walk backs from controversy, the crowd in Aspen seemed to be enjoying a high-altitude party.
When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave remarks in Aspen about deterring foreign interference in U.S. politics, the sometime target of Trump's ire was given a hero's welcome.
Several hundred people who were crammed into a roasting tent jumped to their feet when Rosenstein entered, and many stayed after his speech, hoping for a coveted souvenir: A selfie with the prosecutor overseeing the Mueller probe.
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The Washington Post's Shane Harris in Aspen and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.