As Trump's fortunes sink, Republicans start to distance themselves in bid to save Senate
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is replacing his face mask after speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill earlier this summer. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
As President Trump plunges deeper into political danger, fearful Republicans seek to distance themselves from his fate and appeal to voters to vote them as controls over a Joe Biden administration.
While making final arguments in a desperate attempt to maintain control of the Senate, even Trump loyalists scrub when asked how deep their support goes for the president.
Senate campaigns, which have long focused on choosing candidates who would remain loyal to Trump, are now throwing a darker message to Republican voters - one that assumes Trump won't be there.
"If we lose the Senate, there will be no firewall stopping the Democrats from implementing their Armageddon plan, filling the courts with activist judges and adding four new Democrats to the Senate by giving DC and Puerto Rico statehood "said a call for funds from the Senate Conservative Fund. "We can't let that happen."
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of Trump's most loyal lieutenants, abruptly stepped off the Trump platoon this week to take a politically - and medically - safer position over the coronavirus crisis, Trump's greatest political responsibility represents.
McConnell said at a news conference in Kentucky on Thursday that he had not been to the White House for more than a month because he did not think security standards were strict enough.
"My impression was that their approach to my approach was different from mine, and what I suggested in the Senate, namely wear a mask and practice social distancing," said McConnell, who is 78 years old and is in an expensive fight for re-election this year.
Texas Republican Senator veteran John Cornyn railed Trump for downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus. The paper that Cornyn had endorsed in the past ultimately chose the support of Democrat MJ Hegar.
"I think Trump could cause a tidal wave," said a leading Republican strategist and Trump supporter, who asked not to be named and to discuss internal party matters. "He's ankle weights in a pool on Senate nominees."
The move away from Trump is similar to the strategy Republicans pursued in 2016, when many party leaders believed he was going to lose, and in 1996, when the party's candidate, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, left President Clinton badly behind.
In both cases, the approach has been to avoid criticizing the candidate directly for fear of alienating his loyalists, while also urging voters to hold a Republican Congress to deny Democrats a "blank check".
"You have to argue that if you elect Biden, there will be no guard rails," said former GOP MP Tom Davis, who chaired the House Republican campaign committee from 1998-2002. "They'll start doing silly things like packing the Supreme Court."
Davis said he was calling on GOP leaders in a memo sent earlier this year to pursue that strategy in order to use the support of anti-Trump Republicans.
In the fall of 2016, a flash of GOP advertisements at Congressional races warned that Hillary Clinton was being ushered into the White House and that the country's best hope of curbing her radical agenda was to send this or that Republican lawmaker to Washington.
Among the most ardent proponents of this strategy was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump skeptic who has since converted to a Trump loyalist. Graham is now up for re-election, in a cut-throat race that could end his 18-year Senate career, and warns of another Democratic apocalypse.
"Let me tell you the nightmare scenario for our state," he said in a debate with his Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison. "If you keep the house, take over the Senate and Biden's President, God help us all ... The most liberal agenda in American politics comes from the House to the Senate."
The Cook Political Report, an impartial election worker, recently downgraded Graham's chances of re-election, saying his declining fortune underscores "how quickly the GOP majority is slipping when they have to defend turf like this and how much Trump's numbers have fallen. " The whiteboard."
According to Patrick Ruffini, a GOP strategist, the warnings that a GOP Congress would be needed to keep a President Clinton at bay helped Senate Republicans put Trump two points ahead of Trump. That was just enough for the GOP to claim victories in several key states.
Ruffini wrote on Twitter Thursday that it is time for vulnerable GOP candidates to speak out about President Biden's threat.
"Candidates need to think about how they can make the same point over the next 26 days," said Ruffini's post.
This strategy was particularly effective four years ago in places like the suburbs of Northern Virginia, where the then representative. Barbara Comstock held onto her place in a district that Hillary Clinton victoriously won. Comstock lost the seat in the 2018 anti-Trump intermediate wave.
Now, GOP strategists, worried about Trump's grim approval numbers in similar suburban boroughs, are hoping a call to voters to share the ticket will stem their losses.
"A lot of Republicans now have to take this line where they don't want to be too critical of Trump and anger his grassroots, but they have to turn to moderates and independents," said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor for the political forecasting journal Sabatos Kristallkugel.
McConnell, for example, without mentioning Trump, has implied that he could be the main Republican in Washington after the November election to deter the Democrats from pushing a far-reaching progressive agenda.
"The way to make sure this doesn't happen is to keep myself as the majority leader, the firewall against disasters," McConnell said in a radio interview in mid-September.
Arizona Senator Martha McSally, one of the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents, made a similar argument in a recent debate with her Democratic rival, former astronaut Mark Kelly, when she came up with the names of Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer New York appointed house spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi from San Francisco.
"We now have a situation where a majority in the Senate will determine that," she said. “When Biden, Schumer and Pelosi are in command, they will abolish the filibuster. You will work through the most radical agenda. "
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Won't stand for re-election until 2022, but he's already jumping on the bandwagon.
"Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are already determined to fill our Supreme Court with political, liberal judges who pass laws from the bank and ignore the constitution," said an ad on Facebook. "We need our Senate majority to stop them."
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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