WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is privately rejecting the growing consensus among Republican leaders that they may lose the House and possibly the Senate in November, leaving party officials and the president's advisers nervous that he does not grasp the gravity of the threat they face in the midterm elections.
Congressional and party leaders and even some Trump aides are concerned that the president's boundless self-assurance about politics will cause him to ignore or undermine their midterm strategy. In battleground states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada, Trump's proclivity to be a loose cannon could endanger the Republican incumbents and challengers who are already facing ferocious Democratic headwinds.
Republicans in Washington and Trump aides have largely given up assuming the president will ever stick to a teleprompter, but they have joined together to impress upon him just how bruising this November could be for Republicans — and how high the stakes are for Trump personally, given that a Democratic-controlled Congress could pursue aggressive investigations and even impeachment.
Over dinner with the president and other Republican congressional leaders this month, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, phrased his advice for the president in the form of a reminder: Trump should never forget his central role in the 2018 campaign, McConnell said, explaining that Republicans' prospects are linked to what he says and does and underscoring that their one-seat advantage in the Senate was in jeopardy.
If McConnell's warning was not clear enough, Marc Short, the White House's legislative liaison, used the dinner to offer an even starker assessment. The GOP's House majority is all but doomed, he said.
But Trump was not moved. "That's not going to happen," he said at different points during the evening, shrugging off the grim prognoses, multiple officials briefed on the conversation told the New York Times.
The disconnect between the president — a political novice whose confidence in his instincts was grandly rewarded in 2016 — and more traditional party leaders demonstrates the depth of the Republicans' challenges in what is likely to be a punishing campaign year.
Trump is as impulsive as ever, fixated on personal loyalty, cultivating a winner's image and privately prodding Republican candidates to demonstrate their affection for him — while complaining bitterly when he campaigns for those who lose.
According to advisers, the president plans to hold a fundraiser a week in the months to come and hopes to schedule regular rallies with candidates starting this summer.
Anger toward Trump has become a crucial motivating tool for Democrats. Already, Republicans have spent millions on House special elections in strongly conservative areas of Pennsylvania and Arizona, losing one seat and retaining the other by a relatively narrow margin.
At the same time, Republican leaders believe he is an essential force for savaging Senate Democrats and turning out voters on the right.