May 3, 2020


Endangered Republicans keeping distance from Trump (Josh Kraushaar, 5/03/20, National Journal)

Here's what I'm hearing from smart GOP strategists now: Republicans should be talking about their work to help their communities in the wake of the pandemic, and avoid referencing Trump's role in managing the crisis. To win battleground Senate seats that are looking more tenuous, it will be crucial to maintain support from some Trump-skeptical independents. If Trump's political condition doesn't improve by the fall, prepare to talk about keeping the Senate as a check against Democratic power, even if it means acknowledging the presidency is likely lost.

"The Republican argument could pivot: If you don't like Trump, you also don't want to give Democrats the keys to the kingdom. You've got to put a check on Biden," said former Republican congressman Tom Davis. "You can't let them control everything. That's a tenable argument for independent voters."

Driving this subdued pragmatism are Trump's sliding poll numbers across the country, particularly in GOP-leaning states that once looked safely in the president's column. Trump, who is planning to visit Arizona and Ohio as part of his first trip outside Washington since the pandemic hit, is now playing political defense in states he comfortably carried in 2016. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, and the state wasn't considered a leading battleground for 2020. Both parties view Arizona as highly competitive, but the state hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.

A new slate of reputable red-state polls released this week will raise further alarm at the White House, where the president has already been fuming over his declining numbers. A survey commissioned by Georgia House Republicans painted a grim picture across the state for the entire party. Trump only led Biden by one point in the survey, 45 to 44 percent, well within the margin of error. Biden leads Trump by 15 points among independent voters in the state, and by a whopping 43 points among moderates.

Equally worrisome for Republicans are signs that Trump's problems are affecting downballot GOP candidates. Sen. David Perdue only polled at 45 percent in the Georgia survey, leading Democrat Jon Ossoff by a mere six points. Perdue's race has been seen as an afterthought, compared to the state's higher-profile Senate special election in November. In the special election, appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler holds a dismal 20-47 favorability rating, and is at risk of not making the expected runoff. (The silver lining for Republicans: GOP Rep. Doug Collins is viewed much more favorably, and would start out as the favorite in a runoff.)

In Texas, a state that the president should have locked down, a recent poll conducted for the Texas Tribune shows a surprisingly competitive race. Trump leads Biden by five points, 49 to 44 percent, holding a mere 49 percent job approval rating in a reliably Republican bastion. Trump's saving grace is that Biden looks even less popular in the red state, with a net -16 favorability rating (35-51).

And in North Carolina, poll after poll paints a challenging picture for Republicans. Four separate statewide polls conducted in the last two weeks all show Biden holding leads ranging from three to seven points. This state is the most consequential of all the battlegrounds, since it features a bellwether Senate race that's likely to determine which party controls the upper chamber. Republican strategists tracking the race believe that Trump needs to carry the state for Sen. Thom Tillis to win; they're skeptical that the freshman senator can run ahead of the president.

The question of whether most Republican candidates are capable of running ahead of Trump will soon become more urgent--especially if the president's popularity continues to sag.

In 2016, Republicans downticket ran well ahead of Donald, far enough to carry him into office despite his losing to the historically unpopular Hillary by three million votes.  Suburbanites, moderates, the college-educated, etc. could convince ourselves that our own guys would hold Donald in check or maybe even tame him.  Now, not only has he been worse than advertised, but the Congressional GOP has capitulated to him or, in too many cases, joined him.

Not only is he running against a normal opponent but he's lost the support from below that was propping him up.  And, where in 2016 he could contest Purple and even some Blue states, now he's going to have to fight a rearguard action just to hold the Red.  we're just quibbling over the size of the debacle from here on out.

Posted by at May 3, 2020 10:17 AM