In rally after rally, President Donald Trump exhorts throngs of red-hatted supporters to treat next week’s congressional elections as a referendum on Trumpism and the grass-roots movement that swept him to power.
“You’re voting for me in 2018,” Trump told a raucous crowd in a late September appearance for Republican candidates in Missouri. “You’re voting for me.”
The plea speaks to the challenge facing the president and his supporters: With Democrats threatening to take over the House of Representatives and key governors’ offices, the success of his legislative agenda over the next two years hinges on whether he can energize his backers around candidates who are not named Trump.
This year’s election is the first real test of whether the coalition behind Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan can evolve from a diffuse, personality-driven following to an organised political force able to boost candidates outside his electoral strongholds.
Reuters surveyed officials from 18 Republican campaigns, analysed data from polling partner Ipsos and interviewed dozens of candidates, strategists and Trump supporters to assess the reach and influence of the president’s self-styled “MAGA Movement” ahead of the elections.