Trump tries to amass local army for 2020

 In Politics

President Donald Trump is amassing an army of political insiders for 2020 — all without leaving the White House.

The Trump administration has hosted 14 “state days” over the past few months, inviting county commissioners of both parties to come through for tours and meet senior administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.

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While the daylong events are formally billed as a way to establish a relationship between behemoth federal agencies and their local counterparts, they also are designed to engender new loyalty to a president some Republicans refused to support in 2016 as he begins to look ahead to his reelection campaign, according to two former aides.

On Wednesday, more than 100 county supervisors from Wisconsin are set to make the trip to Washington. By the end of the year, the White House expects every county commissioner in the country to have received an invitation to attend such an occasion at the White House.

Trump isn’t the first president to use the pomp of the presidency to cement support or cultivate alliances in critical states. But for this president, the meetings are helping wipe the slate clean with people who were never on board the Trump Train.

“He’s bypassing the political infrastructure and going directly to the elected officials closest to the people,” said GOP strategist Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP state chairman who is not involved in the White House’s local courtship efforts. “It helps them get their message out to address whatever they want and it allows them to get extremely close to the end voter.”

“You’ve got to convert people,” Anuzis added. “And anytime anyone participates in a White House program, it elevates their feeling of value and plays to their ego.”

Other White Houses in recent years have played host to locals: President Barack Obama regularly organized hundreds of bipartisan mayors during their annual conference. George W. Bush similarly had governors and state legislators, including those whose work he sought to magnify.

But Trump was so distant from local officials during his insurgent campaign that some have been startled to hear from the White House at all.

For Amy Galey, a Republican commissioner from Alamance County, North Carolina, the email she received in February inviting her to the White House was so unexpected that she forwarded it to the IT department to make sure it wasn’t the product of a hacker.

“I thought no way this is real,” she said. But it was, and the next month she traveled to the White House for discussions that touched on infrastructure, agriculture and broadband access.

The outreach initiative appears to be producing the desired results. Galey, who backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016, compared the experience with going to see the Eagles in concert instead of merely listening to a recording.

“There is a charm. There is an appeal, and, for a political junkie, I think there is the same feeling about going to the White House,” Galey said. And the president, who she once viewed as “difficult to get your brain around,” is now, in her estimation, “doing a terrific job.”

Officially, the purpose of the White House visits is to forge deeper ties with locals on issues ranging from infrastructure and rural broadband to transportation and the scourge of opioids. The program is run by the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Lieutenant governors, secretaries of state and mayors have similarly traveled to meet officials at the White House.

Invitees, many of whom pay their own way or receive local stipends, are promised an audience with senior‐level officials, including top Cabinet secretaries like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway regularly drops in to discuss the ravages of drug addiction.

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