NASHVILLE, Tenn.—On an overcast Tuesday night, Marsha Blackburn made peace with being a wallflower.
The Tennessee congresswoman is running to replace the retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker, but even in this redder-than-red state, she’s currently neck-and-neck with her Democratic opponent, former governor Phil Bredesen. President Trump was thus called in to provide reinforcements. His Tuesday-night rally here was billed as a call to arms for Republican voters—to make sure they turn out in November for a congresswoman who’s embraced Trump tighter than most.
But Trump’s past performance stumping for congressional candidates suggested that Blackburn would struggle to maintain the president’s focus—and that’s precisely what happened here in the city’s crowded municipal auditorium. In his signature free-wheeling style, Trump spoke for over an hour, touting his enthusiasm for everything from tax reform to plans for new airports, calling House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi an “MS-13 lover,” and mentioning Blackburn’s name just a handful of times.
To those familiar with past Trump events for down-ballot candidates, this wasn’t a surprise. At a similar rally in March, for example, the president more or less ignored Pennsylvania’s Rick Saccone, who ultimately lost the special election for the 18th district, and instead used the occasion to go after, among others, Oprah, a rumored presidential candidate in 2020. And just last week, in a move that seemed specifically engineered to spike the cortisol levels of congressional Republicans, Trump joked at a dinner hosted by a pro-life group that the crowd’s votes in 2018 weren’t all that consequential. “Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016—although I’m not sure I really believe that, but you know,” the president said, interrupting his own prepared remarks. “I don’t know who the hell wrote that line.”