Team Trump turns to Rove playbook to juice 2018 turnout

Donald Trump’s White House may take a page from the Karl Rove playbook.

The administration has been in talks to put conservative initiatives on the ballot in 2018 midterm battleground states in hopes of energizing base voters dispirited by the performance of Republican-controlled Washington.

The strategy is similar to the one Rove used in 2004. The George W. Bush political guru helped engineer a slate of anti-gay marriage amendments that year to boost GOP turnout in swing states such as Ohio, an approach that many are convinced helped pave the way for Bush’s reelection. (Rove has denied accounts that he orchestrated the 11-state effort.)

White House aides are less interested in a ballot initiative campaign focused on social issues, fearful it would serve to only further stoke an already-motivated liberal base. Instead, according to three people familiar with the deliberations, they’re considering initiatives involving tax reform and other economic issues seen as more likely to invigorate conservatives. Tax reform also goes to the heart of Trump’s agenda, and he’s expected to spend much of the fall pursuing it.

While the 2004 initiative campaign was spread across 11 states, the 2018 version would likely be narrower. Under an initial blueprint, the effort would focus on a handful of red states where vulnerable Democratic senators are up for reelection next year, including Montana, North Dakota and Missouri.

Those states are at the center of the Republican bid to expand their Senate majority in the midterms. They’re seen as particularly compelling options because they are small and, therefore, easier and less expensive to run campaigns in.

Spearheading the discussions is Republican strategist Gerry Gunster, a referendum expert who helped to lead the successful 2016, populist-infused campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union. Gunster — who visited then-president-elect Trump in New York City along with Brexit leader Nigel Farage after the November election — has spoken about the ballot initiative concept with top administration aides, including political director Bill Stepien and Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence and a veteran GOP operative.

Still, it’s an open question whether a White House-backed ballot initiative effort will materialize. Those involved caution that the plans are in a preliminary stage and that the White House, while intrigued, has yet to give final signoff.

 

The administration has been in talks to put conservative initiatives on the ballot in 2018 midterm battleground states in hopes of energizing base voters dispirited by the performance of Republican-controlled Washington.

 

 

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