Monday, November 18, 2019

Mississippi and Kentucky Elections Redux: Do Trump Rallies Actually Help Republican Candidates?

Last Saturday, a Democrat won another statewide election in the South.  John Bel Edwards who was elected Governor of Louisiana in 2015 thanks to a sex scandal involving the Republican nominee, won re-election over his GOP opponent, businessman Eddie Rispone.   President Donald Trump held three rallies in the state to help Rispone, including two just days before the election.  But Trump's support of Rispone was even more involved than that.  Politico describes: 
Trump’s activity in the Louisiana contest was particularly extensive: In addition to the rallies, he called into conservative radio stations on Rispone’s behalf, recorded get-out-the-vote robocalls and videos, and sent out a stream of tweets savaging Edwards. On Saturday, the president wrote several tweets encouraging Louisianans to cast their ballots for Rispone. 
Trump’s political operation also invested heavily, with the Republican National Committee spending $2 million on the race....
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-Louisiana)
Despite Trump's efforts, Edwards, an old-fashioned conservative Democrat, defeated Rispone 51.3% to 48.7% in the run-off.

This loss followed one less than two weeks earlier in Kentucky, where incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin narrowly lost to Democrat Andy Beshear.  Trump had won both states overwhelmingly in 2016, Kentucky by 30 points, Louisiana by 20.

Unlike what I had documented with Indiana statewise races (2014 v. 2018), Trumpism did not seem to hurt GOP statewide candidates down the ballot in Kentucky.  In fact, in Kentucky, GOP candidates, except for Bevin, did considerably better in 2019 than 2015.

In the Kentucky and Louisiana race, President Trump held several rallies at which he asked that voters make the election a referendum on him and impeachment.  Despite his efforts to nationalize the race and make it about him, those heavily Republican states handed victories to Democrats.  What is going on?

The notion behind the Trump rallies, and the other Trump-led get-out-the-vote efforts, is that it encourages Republican voters to go to polls.  The flaw in that theory is that GOP turnout has already been maximized in the Trump era.  We saw that during the 2018 elections. GOP turnout was fantastic during the mid-terms.  Yet the Republican Party took it on the chin because Democratic turnout was also high. 

What Trump rallies appear to be doing is preaching to the choir...and encouraging Democrats to turn out.  Democrats who likely would have stayed home during non-presidential elections are seeing Trump come into their communities and they are responding by going to the polls in droves.  It may well have been in Rispone and Bevin's best interest to run more tightly on the Republican base in their GOP dominated states and forego Trump visit.

Since poor turnout in 2016 sunk Hillary Clinton, Democrats have been motivated to go to the polls.  Whenever Democratic electoral interest might wane, Trump stirs them back up and they respond at the ballot box.

As far as the Republican Party goes, there simply is no empirical evidence that Trump is advancing the GOP brand.  The elections in 2017, 2018 and this year offer proof that Trump's assistance to GOP candidates does not do much in a general election and may be counter-productive.  That shouldn't come as a shock to those who have looked at the numbers.  In 2016, Trump did not lead the GOP ticket in most states.  In most states (Indiana was an exception), statewide GOP candidates outperformed Trump. 

In short, Trump isn't elevating the GOP brand.  He is dragging it down.

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