Running for the hills in the GOP? Not quite

By Robert Presser on January 29, 2018

All the US administration’s 2018 optimism seems to have vanished in the face of Wolff’s inside look at the Trump White House, Fire and Fury, coupled with the threat of a new round of indictments from the Mueller enquiry that target more insiders.  No worry, Trump is telling us that he can take the heat, and that he is prepared to take the heat for everyone involved.  Fear not, skittish Republicans, Trump has your back!

With the mid-term House and Senate elections coming up in November 2018, incumbent Republicans must make two major related decisions.  First, do they seek re-election, and if so, do they seek an endorsement from the Trump White House.  Some long-time senators like Orrin Hatch of Utah, 84 years old, have decided to retire (understandable) but other younger, more vigorous politicians who have decided that they can no longer subject themselves to the hyper-partisanship and derision of Congress and are liberating seats for newcomers.  So far, 20 Republicans have announced that they will not seek re-election as of this date, including three important Senators – Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and Hatch.  More should be expected as contested re-nominations emerge from Steve-Bannon inspired insurgent conservative forces who will target remaining Republican moderates.

Trump has signalled that he will assist incumbents, a position made easier for the White House since his very public split with Bannon over the Michael Wolff book.   However, taking an endorsement from Trump can either help or hinder depending on what state and which district an incumbent represents.  There are urban/suburban Republicans who are in jeopardy because Trump’s overall national approval ratings are stuck in the mid-30’s, and that support is skewed to rural, predominantly white red-state areas of the country.  If you are a blue-state Republican (hello, Peter King, NY 2nd District covering Nassau and Suffolk counties) you are going to have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do in front of your affluent, progressive suburban voter base.

Can candidates who take a Trump endorsement run on his accomplishments?  Oh, you can’t remember any of them?  If you look past the Twitter-fed cacophony of virulent anti-Trump sentiment in the media, he is moving forward on many of his election planks, even those that seemed to have been defeated, like the repeal of Obamacare.  What Trump and his team could not achieve via an act of Congress he is working on chipping away at bit by bit by removing the mandates imposed on the states by the original Affordable Care Act.  Obamacare will be gutted slowly under the excuse that the insurance markets are failing in any case and the estimated 10 million Americans who will lose their coverage would have lost it in any case due to a lack of affordability.  Internationally, he is taking on North Korea with his Bigger Button (my capitalization, not yet a formal technical term), calling out Pakistan for taking US strategic aid and continuing to harbor radical Islamic elements within its borders, he facilitated a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel to foster Iranian containment, and got the Western Europeans to realize that they had better start to pay for their own defence.  The Mexican Wall prototypes are standing,and Trump is trying to do a deal on DACA (immigration reform) that couples that file to funding the construction phase.  NAFTA looks almost certain to fail, Mexico will get shut out and Trump will push Trudeau into a reconstituted Canada-US free trade agreement that creates pockets of preferential treatment for US industry.  Also, the oil sector is salivating over the loosening of offshore drilling in California and Alaska.  Need I mention the most massive tax reform package since 1986?  These are significant accomplishments for any administration, and are astounding for one that is beset with resignations and accusations of treasonous collusion with the Russians.  Behind the Trump Twitterverse, the professional minions have been busy dismantling the Obama legacy.

The Democrats and their surrogates having been active on the political talk show circuit displaying giddy predictions of taking both the House (where they are down by 25 seats) and the Senate, where they only require two seats for control.  Still, the Democrats lack a comprehensive message to sell the electorate beyond their opposition to the Trump administration.  Perhaps Oprah, post Golden Globes adulation, can help them craft a package that will get progressive electors out to the voting booths the way they did in the presidential cycles of 2008 and 2012.  If the Democrats do not have a compelling national vision to offer then those very same voters who did not come out in 2016 will stay home once again, and the Republicans will retain control of the House and fate of the Senate is far from a foregone conclusion.

Clinton focused on “It’s the Economy, Stupid”, Obama focused on hope via “Yes We Can”, and Trump promised to “Make America Great Again.”  Short, digestible compelling messages.  Somehow, I think that “We’re Not Trump” is going to fall short.  If I were a Republican, I would take that Trump endorsement and sell his accomplishments to his voter base and get them to turn out, regardless of the hazards of the daily Twitter rambling.  At least Trump has something to sell, while the Democrats should borrow some orange cones from Montreal and get to work.


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