Republicans Claim Trump Closed a 17-Point Gap in Kentucky. That’s Not Quite What Happened.

WASHINGTON — It seemed in many ways like nothing new: another high-ranking Republican official offering a dubious assertion about the potent political powers of President Trump.

But a claim from the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel — that Mr. Trump helped lift Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky from a 17-point deficit in the polls to nearly even in Tuesday’s election — took the president’s practice of crediting himself to a new level.

“No one energizes our base like @realDonaldTrump,” Ms. McDaniel said in a late-night tweet on Tuesday. She also included the polling deficit, which did not match up with the vast majority of public polls or internal surveys conducted by campaigns in the weeks before the election or with the Republican Party’s own recent surveys. The tweet left the impression that the gap in the polls was fairly recent.

Trying to frame Mr. Bevin’s apparent loss as a ninth-inning rally that fell just shy of a win, Ms. McDaniel also noted that five of the other six Republicans on the ballot in Kentucky won their races and that “President Trump helped lift the entire ticket.”

Perhaps Mr. Trump’s visit to the state on Monday night did indeed help. Mr. Bevin is trailing Andy Beshear, his Democratic rival, by only a few thousand votes and is now seeking a recanvassing of absentee ballots. But public and internal Republican Party polls suggested the race had been extremely close before Mr. Trump arrived.

Ms. McDaniel’s selective presentation of the facts hews closely to the playbook of a president who sees his brand as all about winning — and who has no qualms about engaging in what he long ago coined euphemistically as “truthful hyperbole” if he thinks it helps him.

Other Republicans on Wednesday echoed Ms. McDaniel’s comment, which aligns with the effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to build up and maintain an aura of political invulnerability that does not always match reality.

It is not uncommon for supporters in either party to try to highlight their president’s political influence. But in an era where Republicans are largely defined by how fervently they support Mr. Trump, the remarks were the latest sign that any admission of weakness regarding the president or his political prospects is frowned upon.

Some who have worked closely with the president in the past said that while it is not surprising Mr. Trump is trying to create an impression of invincibility, it could ultimately hurt his re-election. The fear of losing can be a powerful motivator in driving voters to the polls, said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump aide.

“The president should be cognizant that there is an advantage to a Matt Bevin losing or in losing the House of Representatives,” Mr. Nunberg said. “It creates voter intensity for him.”

But, Mr. Nunberg added, “The president always looks to spin a loss, as opposed to a politician who tries to play an advantage off of a loss.”

The topic of polling — including surveys conducted by the president’s own aides — has long been a sore spot for Mr. Trump. In June, he told aides to deny the validity of leaked internal polling that showed him losing to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in many key states. Since then, the president’s aides have slashed their polling team in half and have kept their data closely held.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced as false polls commissioned by news organizations, including Fox News, that show his dismal approval ratings, claiming that only his campaign has the real numbers.

The R.N.C. defended Ms. McDaniel’s tweet on Wednesday by noting that its internal data showed Mr. Bevin down 15 points in late May, when Mr. Trump endorsed the governor ahead of the Republican primary election.

An R.N.C. spokesman said Wednesday that the chairwoman’s tweet was also referring to a poll by Targoz Market Research on FiveThirtyEight showing Mr. Beshear up by 17 points in mid-October. But what the R.N.C. did not acknowledge — and what Ms. McDaniel omitted from her tweet — was that FiveThirtyEight had designated the pollster as “below average” in its reliability, assigning it a grade of “C/D.”

Most other public polls conducted in Kentucky over the last 13 months showed the race moving in either direction within a single-digit margin — close but fluid. None showed anything close to a 17-point advantage for Mr. Beshear.

Private polling for other Republican committees, which Ms. McDaniel and her staff have access to, also depicted a much closer race. The Republican Governors Association’s survey showed Mr. Bevin leading Mr. Beshear by two points two weeks before the race, according to someone who saw the results. In the final week, the gap closed to dead even.

Republicans have given Mr. Trump credit for victories in every recent election where he campaigned for the Republican candidate, including the governors’ races in Louisiana and Mississippi. The R.N.C. also said it noticed, in the September special election for a North Carolina House seat, a marked improvement for the Republican candidate, Dan Bishop, in the area around Fayetteville, where Mr. Trump held an election eve rally. That county went Democratic in 2018 by more than four points. But Mr. Bishop won in September by 0.2 percentage points, which the R.N.C. said was higher than it had expected given historical precedent.

It is difficult to assess whether Mr. Trump deserves credit for closing the gap in these races — where just a few thousand votes has made the difference — given the many factors that can swing close elections.

Republicans could simply be holding their noses and voting for candidates they are not in love with so their party does not lose. This phenomenon, known as “coming home,” is not reliable in campaigns but it is familiar to anyone who worked on Mr. Trump’s behalf in 2016.

During the final weeks of his campaign, Mr. Trump sent his running mate, Mike Pence, to round up votes for him around the country. Mr. Pence’s plea to voters was, “It’s time to come home.”

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