President Donald Trump on Monday offered the country a preview of the Republican 2018 campaign strategy: Hammer congressional Democrats for not supporting the GOP tax bill, and if that doesn't work, then tie them to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they want to raise your taxes and they don't want to give the money to the military," Trump said during a speech outside Cincinnati, Ohio, referring to the Minority Leaders in the House and the Senate, respectively.
"Nancy Pelosi, what she is doing to this country. She has gone so far left, and Schumer has gone so far left. Oh, I look forward to running against them," the president said.
Trump also acknowledged that Republicans face an uphill climb this year, given the long-running trend of steep losses in congressional midterms for whichever party holds the White House. He blamed the trend on how happy his supporters would be.
"So the people are happy," Trump said, "and they don't get out and vote like they should. Maybe they go to a movie in '18. None of you are going to a movie, I hope.
"So what happens is they sort of take it for granted, they sit back and then they get clobbered because the other people are desperate, and [the other party's voters] get out and they have more energy."
Despite the tough odds, GOP campaign strategists agree that the best option for Republicans is to run on the tax cut bill, and to hammer incumbent Democrats for voting against it.
"The more that people see the benefits of tax reform, lower taxes, corporate bonuses, and even in some cases, minimum wage hikes -- which Democrats have always championed -- as more people see these benefits, it's going to be even easier to run on this," said Garrett Ventry, a Republican strategist.
Indeed, recent surveys have shown public support for the tax cuts increasing steadily, from approval ratings in the 30s last fall to the mid-to-high 40s earlier this month.
But what about the so-called "blue wave" of first-time Democratic candidates running for office this year? Presumably the Republican strategy of going after a Democrat for voting "against" the tax cuts isn't going to work if that candidate wasn't in Congress.
"That's where the Pelosi part is going to come into play," said Ventry.
Pelosi "is our secret weapon," Trump said in Ohio Monday. "I just hope they don't change her, [because] there are people that want to run her out," he said, presumably referring to long-running efforts within the Democratic caucus to replace Pelosi as the party leader.
"She's a rich woman who lives in a big beautiful house in California. who wants to give all of your money away," Trump said, basically summing up the Republican case against the multimillionaire lawmaker from San Francisco.
Pelosi also presents a unique liability for first-time candidates. "Chances are good that Pelosi is going to be raising money for a lot of those newcomers, because they won't have a natural fundraising base the way an incumbent would," Ventry told CNBC. "So Republicans are going to tie those candidates to Pelosi even more, and argue that whoever the Democrat is, he or she will be a rubber stamp for Pelosi."
For an example of how this works, Ventry pointed to the June 2017 special congressional election in Georgia's 6th District, widely considered an early referendum on Trump's presidency. There, Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race in history.
"In that race, nearly all the Republican ads painted Ossoff as a rubber stamp for Pelosi," Ventry said. "It was a tight race, but in the end the GOP strategy worked."