A pair of top Republicans acknowledged in a private meeting on Saturday that the party was battling serious vulnerabilities in the midterm elections, including what one described as widespread “hate” for President Trump, and raised the prospect that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas could lose his bid for re-election because he is not seen as “likable” enough.
The two Republican leaders, Mick Mulvaney, the federal budget director, and Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, assured party officials and donors at a closed-door event in New York City that the right would ultimately turn back a purported “blue wave” in November. Mr. Mulvaney also questioned whether Democrats could marshal support from outside the left, criticizing them as a party defined solely by opposition to Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Mulvaney and Ms. McDaniel also offered an unusually raw assessment of their own party’s strengths and weaknesses in the midterm elections. They pointed to the burning energy among Democratic voters and the dozens of open House seats, where Republican incumbents decided not to seek re-election, as fearsome obstacles to retaining control of Congress. And Mr. Mulvaney suggested Republicans would fare better if they could “subtract” the president’s divisive persona from voters’ minds, and stress instead that the country is in a “pretty good” condition.
“You may hate the president, and there’s a lot of people who do, but they certainly like the way the country is going,” Mr. Mulvaney said, adding of voters: “If you figure out a way to subtract from that equation how they feel about the president, the numbers go up dramatically.”
Their comments were captured in an audio recording that was obtained by The New York Times from a person who attended the party meeting.
Even as Mr. Mulvaney conceded that Mr. Trump’s personal unpopularity was a problem for the party, he predicted it would not ultimately be a decisive factor for most voters. He also alluded to Mr. Cruz, without mentioning his name, as a lawmaker who might lack the charm to win a contested race this year.
Mr. Cruz responded dismissively hours later, waving off Mr. Mulvaney as “some political guy in Washington.”
Mr. Mulvaney, a former member of Congress from South Carolina, who was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, said Democrats had not marshaled a broad movement of opposition to Washington the way Republicans did that year. He argued that they lacked an issue to unify their cause, unlike Republicans eight years ago, who rallied in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Instead, Mr. Mulvaney said, Democrats were putting forward a “movement of hate,” and asked rhetorically: “What is the signature piece of legislation they’re against? The tax bill?”
Ms. McDaniel, a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, alluded more delicately in her remarks to the explosive Democratic turnout in the midterm primary elections that Mr. Trump had helped stir, telling the meeting, which included many major donors, that Republicans were spending money aggressively to build a voter-turnout machine to block a Democratic takeover.