When Donald Trump took office 21 months ago, it was to cries of impeachment and fear-mongering that he would destroy the world. First, let’s talk about the good news: there is at least some reason to believe that he may not destroy the world. And, on the topic of impeachment, we now have the Mueller probe.
However, there is a greater crisis looming over Republicans. As we approach the midterms, President Trump has made his mark on the election for better or worse for Republicans. If the “blue wave” does crash on Washington, President Trump may be the earthquake that caused it.
Democrats are hoping to pounce on as many of the seats in the six hotly contested U.S. Senate races, with Nevada being an opportunity for Democrats to create an even split in the Senate. In the House, however, Democrats are hoping to grab at least 33 seats, which would flip control of the House back to the Democrats. According to the polls, Democrats are well positioned to take that number of seats and potentially more, which could create problems for the Trump Administration and Republicans.
Two Republican mainstays, who have been notable critics of Trump, are off the ballot. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) criticism of President Trump in the early moments of his presidency loom large. His approval rating plummeted and he only received a 25 percent favorability rating in primary polling data. Bob Corker (R-TN) faced a similar dilemma as an outspoken critic on President Trump’s foreign policy. He announced his retirement last fall. Meanwhile, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is retiring more likely because of age than any other reason, and Republicans don’t have to scramble to fill his seat, with Mitt Romney in the race. Similar to Hatch, Corker could cite age, but Mr. Trump’s weighty words also played a major role.
With Election Day now three weeks away, Republicans in tight races face a difficult task. Do they kiss the ring of President Trump, or do they defy him and risk his wrath? It’s a tricky situation when the most prominent member of the Republican party uses his platform to condemn candidates just weeks before re-election. Furthermore, in the case of men like Ted Cruz, Trump will campaign for them after he has branded them with nicknames like “Lying Ted.” This allows Democrats to further attack Republicans on the issue of Trump.
Critics of the president, like Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), may have wisely reversed course after initially eying on re-election, but are still willing to challenge him. Ben Sasse recently challenged the president on his horseface comment saying “that’s not the way men act,” in a clear attempt to demonstrate that his feelings do not mirror the president’s, and can also be interpreted as an attempt to save face with women voters ahead of the midterms.
This still leaves Republicans with a problem: their biggest asset is also the albatross that Democrats are tying around their necks. For many traditional Republicans, President Trump clashes on nativist economic policy, but agrees with the conservative view of border control. More often than not, President Trump has proven to be more conservative than many initially thought, and that’s another part of what makes him both a useful, but dangerous ally.
Like it or not, Republicans have to acknowledge that President Trump holds sway with many voters to whom they want access. This includes the traditional Republican voter base and some blue-collar workers whom Trump stole from Democrats in 2016. However, in the case of men like Ted Cruz (R- TX), it means that they have to suck up to a man who spewed hate at them, and willingly give their opponents a talking point. It may also be the best way to win re-election since President Trump’s words carry so much weight. For many incumbents prior to President Trump, it was a no-brainer to have the president on their campaign trail. However, President Trump is not the typical party leader, and his campaigning carries a few side effects.
Under normal circumstances, there would not be a news story covering the president speaking at a fellow party member’s campaign rally, but it is a big deal with President Trump. President Trump manages to draw in large crowds and get them united behind a cause, and Republicans are along for the ride that is a typical Trump speech.
Regardless of how conservative a Republican may be, they still have the demon that Trump stands for the worst elements of both political parties. President Trump’s nativist economic policy is a one tier below what Bernie Sanders would advocate, and his views on immigration should make more people shudder. While his foreign policy agenda may have changed, it should still alarm Republicans how transactional every move by President Trump seems to be.
In Washington, quickly pivoting stances is usually a bad method, but President Trump has fully embraced this kind of political behavior. Republicans in 2018 are a part of that whether they like it or not. They at first tried mightily to stop President Trump, but they could not stymie the flow his political machine built up. On Election Day, that political machine will be put to the test as Democrats lick their chops over the House and hope to poach a Senate seat or two. Recent polling shows that they have a puncher’s chance with more white married women defecting to Democrats in a boycott of Republicans handling of sensitive issues involving women. The most glaring may be Brett Kavanaugh, but that’s only because President Trump seems to be the only politician in town able to carry on in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
Regardless, Republicans should be worried because they are catering to demagogue who loves hearing and singing his own praises. However, they need the president on their side, or certain key senators could join the Jeff Flake and Bob Corker club. So far, Republicans have managed to do the best they can with President Trump, but that doesn’t mean that they should stop having nightmares about him in addition to dreams.