Trump allies are twisting themselves in knots trying to rationalize the Republican’s poor performance in the nation’s biggest election

Jason Miller. Screenshot/CNN
  • Allies of President Donald Trump tried to rationalize a poor performance by the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s special election in Pennsylvania.
  • They blamed Republican candidate Rick Saccone for not embracing Trump on the campaign trail.
  • But Saccone had called himself “Trump before Trump.”

President Donald Trump’s allies tied themselves in knots to explain why Republican Rick Saccone was underperforming in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District on Tuesday.

Saccone, a state legislator who called himself “Trump before Trump” and sought to tie himself closely to the president throughout his campaign, was viewed by many Republicans as a poor candidate who was unable to fundraise well for his candidacy.

Many view the district’s special election as a referendum on a president who won the area by 20 points in 2016. But his allies sought to give him some distance from Saccone.

“The problem for candidates like Rick Saccone is you can’t wait until the 11th hour to become a Trump Republican,” Jason Miller, a former top Trump campaign aide, said on CNN. “If you want to get these Democrats, if you want to get these independents who support these more conservative messages, you’ve got to get out there and do it. Voters are pretty smart, they can figure out who’s real and who’s fake.”

After another panelist pointed out that Saccone fashioned himself as “Trump before Trump,” Miller pointed to Saccone’s fundraising numbers.

“He came across as establishment, and I think that was more of the problem,” he said, later adding that Saccone “very much sounds like he’s already part of Washington.”

Meanwhile, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told ABC News the election was not “really a referendum on Donald Trump” but “a referendum on Rick Saccone.”

And Kayleigh McEnany, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, told ABC News that the race was so tight because Democratic challenger Conor Lamb “has essentially run as a Republican.”

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