WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has become such a force in the Republican Party that the official overseeing next year's Senate races has proposed a delicate strategy for GOP candidates: Tap into Trumpism without mimicking Trump.
In a seven-page confidential memo that imagines Trump as the party's presidential nominee, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee urges candidates to adopt many of Trump's tactics, issues and approaches — right down to adjusting the way they dress and how they use Twitter.
In the memo on the "Trump phenomenon," NRSC executive director Ward Baker said Republicans should embrace his tough talk about China and "grab onto the best elements of his anti-Washington populist agenda." Above all, they should appeal to voters as genuine and beyond the influence of special interests.
"Trump has risen because voters see him as authentic, independent, direct, firm, — and believe he can't be bought," Baker writes. "These are the same character traits our candidates should be advancing in 2016. That's Trump lesson #1."
Baker's memo, titled "Observations on Donald Trump and 2016," amounts to a clear-eyed approach to the Trump challenge — to which many Republican elites have responded with only hand-wringing and the vague hope that somehow, someday it would disappear. In fact, the memo posits that Trump could build a powerful enough coalition to win the general election. Regardless of how far Trump's candidacy ultimately goes, the memo is evidence of the influence he has had on his party.
Still, Baker sees limits to being like Trump. He writes that it is prudent for Senate candidates to craft their own political brands distinct from Trump's and to distance themselves by quickly condemning his more controversial comments, such as "wacky things about women." He cautions candidates against "piling on" Trump, however, warning that Republicans up and down the ballot would suffer if the GOP vote is divided or depressed.
Implied in the memo is an understanding that the national GOP would back Trump if he secures the nomination — managing his candidacy rather than disowning him as the standard-bearer.
The memo was dated Sept. 22 and addressed to NRSC senior staff, but it since has been shared more widely and has become the subject of considerable discussion at the highest levels of the party in recent weeks as Trump continues to lead national and early-state polls.
The document was shared with the Washington Post by a senior Republican who requested anonymity because it was not intended to be made public. Its authenticity was confirmed by a second top Republican official.