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Trump tries to rally midterm voters by claiming 2016’s election was more important

The president goes off script and questions the importance of voting in the midterms.

President Trump Speaks At The 'Campaign for Life' Gala Hosted By The Susan B. Anthony List
President Donald Trump speaks during the Susan B. Anthony List’s 11th annual Campaign for Life Gala at the National Building Museum.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

President Donald Trump sent Republican voters a baffling message about the midterm elections Tuesday night: Maybe votes for this year’s midterms aren’t quite as important as the ones they cast in the general election.

“Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016,” he said while speaking at a gala hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List Tuesday night, the same day voters went to the polls in several Southern primaries. Then he went off message: “Although I’m not sure I really believe that, but you know,” he added. “I don’t know who the hell wrote that line.”

The audience laughed, but these comments mark the latest instance of Trump’s extemporaneous musings muddling a broader message from the Republican Party, which has emphasized how crucial voter turnout will be for this contentious midterm cycle.

As Republicans strive to stave off Democratic efforts to flip both chambers of Congress this November, voter turnout could play a key role in battleground districts, some of which have already seen a high level of excitement from Democrats fueled by anti-Trump pushback.

What’s more, the party in power has historically observed a depressed interest from voters, who may be less likely to participate at the ballot box for a variety of reasons. (Midterms turnout more broadly has, however, favored Republicans because it leans older and whiter.)

As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias pointed out, there are, ironically, plenty of reasons maintaining a congressional majority will be important for Trump himself, given Republicans’ role in running interference on the investigation from special counsel Robert Mueller and scrutiny of Trump’s financial dealings.

Trump talked up anti-abortion candidates — including a Democrat

Much of the rest of Trump’s speech was about pumping up voters for the midterms, touting his administration’s anti-abortion achievements and saying Democrats would seek to undo the White House’s efforts if they pick up more seats.

“If Democrats gain power they will try to reverse these gains,” he said, slamming Democrats including Sens. Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) for their votes on a 20-week abortion ban that was shot down in the Senate. All four are incumbents in states that Trump won in 2016, and several are facing stiff fights for reelection.

Trump gave a boost to anti-abortion Republicans in his speech as well, offering shoutouts to a long list of lawmakers including Reps. Marsha Blackburn (TN) and Kevin Cramer (ND), who are vying for Senate seats in their respective home states.

He also veered across party lines with a mention of Illinois Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, who has been vocal about maintaining an anti-abortion stance and shifting the party’s position closer to the center on a host of issues.

As part of his midterms push, Trump emphasized that “Democratic senators are up for reelection in 10 states that I won by a lot.”

“If we work hard between now and November, every one of these states can be flipped to a senator who shares our values and votes our agenda,” he added, before suggesting that maybe the election wasn’t quite that important after all.

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