Trump stoking the right with sudden focus on hot-button issues

President Trump is spraying the landscape with a deluge of issues, as if from a firehose, and saturating the political debate in the process.

Not all the issues will work in the GOP's favor, but one thing is certain: With two weeks until the midterms, Trump is driving the news agenda. And the Democrats, lacking a national spokesman — or at times a national strategy — are being forced into a defensive stance.

The Democrats are still favored to take the House, though not with the huge blue wave that the party had once envisioned. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gives Democrats a 9-point lead among likely voters — though not necessarily in the most competitive districts — while also giving Trump his highest approval rating, 47 percent, as president.

The main challenge for Trump is to boost Republican turnout in an off-year election, and that's why we're seeing the sudden rollout of issues, especially of the hot-button variety.

Chief among these is immigration, which is why the president is warning of a caravan of Honduran migrants that has made its way to Mexico and is headed toward the U.S. border. In fact, Trump tweeted yesterday, he will start cutting off, or substantially reducing, foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salavador because they're not stopping illegal immigration.

More important in political terms, Trump is claiming, without offering evidence, that Democrats somehow instigated the caravan, and that "Middle Easterners are mixed in" with those from Central America.

The idea is to cast these thousands of migrants as a scary mob that is threatening the United States. And if Democrats want to defend the potential illegal immigrants, Trump would welcome that debate.

In the same vein, The Washington Post reported that the White House is considering a new policy that would detain migrant families but give them a choice: parents could remain with their children in an immigration jail for months or years while pursuing asylum, or voluntarily split up, with the child sent to a government shelter while a relative applies for custody.

This would seem to give the opposition party an opening, given the uproar over family separations that caused the president to change his original policy. But there hasn't been a forceful response, and the leak enables Trump to say he's continuing to crack down on illegal immigration.

Last year's Trump tax cut doesn't seem to be a big selling point on the trail, so — voila! — the president told a rally over the weekend that he wants another "very major" tax cut.

Never mind that this is moot for the moment: Congress won't be in session through the election. Never mind that no details have been provided. And never mind that it would further explode the deficit, which jumped 17 percent last year, to $779 billion, and is heading toward a trillion bucks.

Trump and Steve Mnuchin say this new tax cut would be aimed squarely at the middle class (didn't they say they about the last one, in addition to the corporate rate reductions?). And middle-class folks are the ones they want to vote.

Surely it's just a coincidence, two weeks before Nov. 6, but The New York Times has just learned that the administration is considering a move aimed at transgender people. According to a memo, gender would be narrowly defined under the Title IX law as a biological condition determined at birth by genitalia — that people would be deemed male or female and this could not be changed.

Again, the transgender community is not exactly Trump's base, but the proposal is designed to generate outrage on the left that can be used to the GOP's advantage.

And by the way, Trump just happened to announce over the weekend that he is pulling the U.S. out of a nuclear arms control treaty with the Russians, who have been accused of violating the agreement struck by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. It's a way of showing that despite the Mueller probe he is getting tough with Moscow. The move has generated strong criticism — from some Republican lawmakers.

The point isn't whether these are good or bad policies; indeed, some will never become law or could be quietly shelved after the election.

But day after day, Trump is using his media megaphone to push politically potent themes on the right, and the Democrats haven’t quite figured out how to counter him.