Tuesday, August 23, 2022

As Mid-Term Elections Increasingly Become a Referendum on Trump, Republican Fortunes Fade

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made headlines over the weekend when he said that the Senate was less likely to be Republican after the 2022 midterms than the House.  That actually wasn't news.  No one had seriously rated the Republicans' chances as greater in the Senate than the House.  But what made news is what McConnell said next when he said "candidate quality" could keep Republicans from capturing the Senate in November.  McConnell had said the quiet part out loud, and in the process dissed the numerous candidates he was depending on to become Senate Majority Leader again.

McConnell, of course, is right.  Republicans have a slate of really lousy Senate candidates and there is one reason why:  Donald J. Trump.  Trump insisted on endorsing candidates who expressed maximum fealty to him and who are willing to lie about the 2020 election being "stolen" from Trump.  Never mind that many of those candidates didn't have the experiences and political skills to win a general election.  Trump wasn't interested in that.

And the polls are reflecting how bad the Republican Senate nominees are.  Dr. Oz has trailed in every
poll in Pennsylvania.  Republican Senator Ron Johnson is trailing a far left Democratic nominee in Wisconsin.  Shockingly, some polling has Republican Senator Marco Rubio trailing Rep. Val Demings in Florida.  In Ohio, J.D. Vance has only a slight lead over Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan in a general election matchup that wasn't supposed to be close.  Then, the race that is most shocking to me is in North Carolina where Democrat Cheri Beasley is polling as tied with Congressman Ted Budd, yet another Trump hand-picked candidate.

For the record that is seven Republican seats the Democrats now have in their sights  (And let's not write off Iowa too quickly where 89 year old Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is facing off against a Democratic three star admiral, a 36 year Navy veteran who is an impressive candidate.)   Meanwhile the Democratic seats the Republicans have targeted appear to be fizzling.  In the Nevada Senate race, a poll yesterday by the Reno Gazette had Nevada Democratic Senator Cortez Mastro up by 7 points over her Republican challenger former Attorney General Paul Laxalt.  Republican candidates in Georgia and Arizona are running well behind.

FiveThirtyEight has the Democrats' chance of winning the Senate now at 63%.  This is an increase from 40% on June 1st.

The Democrats' improved prospects in the Senate appear to be bleeding over to the House.  On June 1st, FiveThirtyEight gave the Democrats a 14% chance of winning the House.  Now it is at 22%.  Cook Political Report's David Wasserman downgraded the Republicans' expected gain in the 2024 election to be as low as 15 seats.  

In addition to Trump's recruitment of terrible candidates, the ex-President also has successfully pushed the nomination of lackeys who ran to unseat Republican members of Congress who had voted to impeach him.  With those weak candidates now in place, Democrats have additional pick up opportunities.

Other factors have played a role in the great Republican 2022 wave turning into a trickling brook.  Gas prices, the most visible evidence of inflation, have fallen dramatically over the summer.   Post Roe, Republicans have terribly overplayed their hand on abortion, staking out positions that are highly unpopular.  On that score, Democrats across the country owe a debt of gratitude to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita who, within weeks of the Dobbs decision, focused the issue on a 10 year old rape victim seeking an abortion. 

Trump believes the search of his home at Mar-a-Lago for classified documents is politically beneficial to him. Indeed among Republican voters, Trump received a substantial boost.  But the problem is that independent and unaffiliated voters don't view Trump as a sympathetic victim. They view him as possibly engaged in criminal activity, and it reminds them of how tired they were of Donald Trump.  There is nothing more that the Democrats would like than to have the 2022 midterms be about Donald Trump.

If Donald Trump blows GOP's efforts to win the Senate, and dampens GOP gains in the House, which seems to be the current trajectory of the race, Republicans will need to reevaluate Trump's future in the party.  Under Trump, the Republican Party lost the House, the Senate, and of course, the White House.  Trump might be called a lot of things, but "winner" is not one of them.

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