President Donald Trump’s visit to Missouri could expose tensions within both the local Republican and Democratic parties as they prepare for an election in a state Trump won by double digits.
Trump plans to visit Springfield next week as the first stop on a series of appearances around the nation meant to garner support for his proposed overhaul of the federal tax system, the White House confirmed. The visit will take place Wednesday, according to the Missouri Republican Party.
Trump’s visit signals the strategic importance that Missouri, a state Trump won by 19 points in November, will play for Republicans in the 2018 election. The state could decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate when U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, stands for re-election.
The event will take place shortly before Congress is expected to weigh Trump’s proposed tax cuts. But his visit also comes after weeks of escalating racial tension in both the country and the state. One of Missouri’s most prominent Republicans, former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, has urged his fellow Republicans to disavow Trump and avoid joining him during his visit to the state.
“Nobody’s asked for my advice. I’m not in the business of being the scold… But I do feel very, very strongly that Donald Trump corrupts the Republican Party, that he corrupts the spirit of everything that we are,” Danforth, a Republican who represented Missouri in the Senate for two decades, said in a phone call Friday.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, on the other hand, released a statement Friday afternoon saying that he is glad that Trump will be visiting his “hometown of Springfield to highlight the economic benefits that tax reductions and other pro-growth policies will have for Missouri families, farmers, and small businesses.” Blunt’s office confirmed that he will join the president if invited to attend the event.
Trump won Missouri by 19 points in November, which helped carry Blunt to a narrow victory over Democrat Jason Kander.
Details for the event are still being finalized, according to the state Republican Party, which pointed to the Missouri trip as a signal of the president’s commitment to the state.
“This visit shows that the President is just as engaged as ever and is a direct message of continued dedication to the heartland,” said Todd Graves, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, in an email. “Our party is committed to the President, and we look forward to his continued progress in Missouri and across the nation.”
One state lawmaker mused privately that officials would be looking for ways to load up their schedules to avoid attending Trump’s event. Attorney General Josh Hawley, Danforth’s top pick to run for U.S. Senate in 2018, will be on a week-long family vacation when Trump visits, according to his spokeswoman.
Trump’s visit and the intra-party divisions it exposes put Hawley in a particularly awkward spot, said Nathan Gonzales, a Washington, D.C., analyst who edits Inside Elections. Danforth is a mentor of Hawley’s who encouraged him to run against McCaskill for Senate, but Hawley also needs Trump voters to win statewide in Missouri.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Hawley to perform as a Senate candidate and this is one of Republicans’ top takeover opportunities, so there’s pressure to deliver,” he said. “He’s going to need every Republican voter in the state whether it’s Trump Republicans or Danforth Republicans. You can’t beat Claire McCaskill with just one part of the Republican party.”
Hawley could be an outlier among the state’s top Republican officials. Gov. Eric Greitens will be attending. Lt. Gov. Mike Parson will rearrange his schedule to ensure he can attend, according to his spokesman. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson also said they plan to attend if their schedules allow.
The news of Trump’s visit came after Danforth published an opinion piece calling on his fellow Republicans to disavow Trump for sowing racial and political division in the country.
“Now comes Trump, who is exactly what Republicans are not, who is exactly what we have opposed in our 160-year history. We are the party of the Union, and he is the most divisive president in our history. There hasn’t been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace,” Danforth wrote, comparing the president to Alabama’s segregationist governor in the 1960s.
Trump’s visit could also exacerbate divisions within the Missouri Democratic Party. Progressive activists in Missouri plan to organize a protest once more details become available.
Stephen Webber, the state Democratic chair, said in an email that Trump’s staff “may have finally gotten him away from his luxury golf resorts under the guise of talking taxes, but anything less than a pledge to not cut Medicaid and Social Security or a full condemnation of neo-Nazis will do nothing to reverse his disastrous Presidency.”
McCaskill held a series of town halls this month in areas of the state that Trump won by large margins in November. At a town hall in Warrensburg, McCaskill was asked if she would support efforts to censure the president. She replied that her job isn’t to fight the president but rather is to fight for Missourians, which sometimes entails working with Trump
The president’s visit to Missouri comes shortly after state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, wrote on Facebook that she hoped Trump would be assassinated. She later apologized for the comment, but Chappelle-Nadal has so far defied bipartisan calls for her resignation.
Trump’s supporters in the region, however, were overjoyed at the prospect of a visit.
Richard Osborne, 46, plans to travel to Trump’s event from Galena, Mo., a town 40 miles southwest of Springfield. Osborne, who is disabled, said that he used to be a Democrat but has embraced Trump despite concerns that Republican health care plans could adversely affect him.
“I’m handicapped and I should be a Democrat because I’m handicapped. But I want to ‘Make America Great Again.’ And I’m willing to be a martyr to make America great again. If my insurance gets messed up, I’m fine with that,” Osborne said in a phone call.
“I do want to see America great again because I’m scared for my children. The way the world looks, the way America looks. I think we’re going to be overpopulated,” he continued. “I remember when I was a kid you didn’t have to lock your front door. You didn’t have to be scared... I remember when America was great and I want to get back to those times.”
Sandra Robinson, a 54-year-old homemaker from Springfield who hopes to attend Trump’s event, said that she’s frustrated with lawmakers from both parties for not doing more to support Trump’s agenda.
“Congress is the one that’s holding him up,” Robinson said. “And to me, they’re being paid to sit there all year long in Washington, D.C., and they’re doing positively nothing to do anything to help him get his stuff done to help the American people.”
The Star’s Jason Hancock contributed to this report.