Republicans are finally ready to diss Don

For Republicans who are only a few weeks afraid of a possible election catastrophe, it has finally become safe to discriminate against Donald Trump - or at least to distance themselves from him in an unmistakably targeted manner.
A flood of barbed comments in the last few days shows how much the calculation of fear in the GOP has shifted. For the past four years, Republican politicians have been particularly afraid of drawing the wrath of the president and his supporters with a stray gesture or remark that he might consider insufficiently deferential. Now some of them appear to be more afraid of not being seen as sufficiently independent by voters.
This is far from revolt. Republicans in the main don't directly oppose Trump. But they are effectively rolling their eyes in despair about him and especially his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the most vivid examples of recent times include:
* Senator Ted Cruz of Texas admitted in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Friday that he was "concerned" about the election, which he warned would be a "Watergate-sized bloodbath" for his party could, depending on how voters view the pandemic and economy on election day.
* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Thursday he hasn't been to the White House for more than two months since Aug. 6 because he's not sure Trump and his team are practicing good coronavirus hygiene. McConnell said, "My impression was that their approach to dealing with it was different from mine, and I insisted that we wear a mask and practice social distancing in the Senate."
* Senator Thom Tillis told POLITICO in a dangerous North Carolina re-election battle that one reason to vote for him was to help Republicans identify their Senate majority as "the best control for a Biden presidency." to maintain.
* Senator Martha McSally, who chases after in an effort to keep her seat in Arizona and refuses to say in a debate with challenger Mark Kelly, despite repeated pressures from the host about whether she is proud to vote for Trump support. "Well, I'm proud to fight for Arizonans when it comes to lowering your taxes ..." she filibustered.
* Senator John Cornyn, still ahead of the polls but facing a tougher race in Texas, told the Houston Chronicle that Trump was not "self-disciplined" in fighting the coronavirus and that his efforts to signal ahead of time that the The pandemic is decreasing and causing “confusion” with the public. Trump "got on his skis," Cornyn said.
* Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in a historically democratic state, said this week that Trump was “incredibly irresponsible” in words and deeds “to ignore the advice of so many people on public health, those contagious to Epidemiol are disease community. "
* After Trump abruptly cut off talks on a new stimulus plan this week, some Republicans publicly broke Trump's strategy. Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of the most vulnerable Republicans standing for re-election, described Trump's move as a "big mistake." Rep. John Katko from New York, who represents a district supported by Hillary Clinton, made it clear that he “does not agree” with the president. And South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally embroiled in the toughest race of his political career, called on Trump to return to the negotiating table. In the face of the uproar, Trump reversed course, although a deal remains highly uncertain.
What's wrong with all of that static GOP? In the past, Trump has been able to effectively end the careers of people who have drawn his anger. Former South Carolina MP, Mark Sanford, an occasional Trump critic, found himself facing a difficult primary challenge in 2018 when Trump spoke out decisively against him in the last few hours. The New York Times said Sanford's loss had shown that "a conservative voting record is less important than total loyalty to Mr. Trump." Later on, Jeff Sessions, who tried to return to the Senate from Alabama after losing Trump's trust as attorney general, learned the same lesson.
One thing that has changed, say staff on both parties, is that there is now strength in numbers. A growing number of Republicans are stepping sideways or crouching from the camera to make sure they aren't caught in the same picture as Trump. Furthermore, in the final weeks of his own re-election campaign, Trump is simply too consumed by the chaos of residents around his west wing to take punitive action against GOP disloyalists.
Even some of Trump's best supporters on Capitol Hill recognize that the coronavirus is a major political unknown to them. Party officials say the GOP is in a far better position with the election focused on fighting in the Supreme Court, as opposed to a referendum on Trump's leadership during the global health crisis.
"I feel more comfortable when the Supreme Court fight is number 1 than Covid is number 1, and that's because the Supreme Court issue is very definitive." We have a candidate, we're going to have hearings ... and that's all a known amount, "Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) Said in an interview with POLITICO. "But Covid is not that clear."
Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, compared the movements of prominent GOP figures that week to "animals before an earthquake" trying to reposition themselves before a "disastrous election for Republicans."
To hold out, activists say Republican candidates must break away from Trump by building a separate brand and message for the pandemic - without inciting the anger of the president or his supporters.
"It's really difficult to do this successfully, given the intensity of Trump's grassroots," Heye admitted. "They allow you to be critical of Trump on [certain] issues, but not on things that are really Trump-centered."
So far, there is little evidence that the strategy is working.
The GOP's fortunes have not improved noticeably in Maine - where Collins has refused to say whether it will even vote for Trump. The party is on slopes in Arizona and Colorado, and in bad shape in Iowa. Meanwhile, the hopefuls of the Democratic Senate seem competitive in previously safe states like Kansas and South Carolina. In North Carolina, the party's political outlook only looks better after a sexting scandal with Cal Cunningham, the Democrat trying to get Tillis off the field.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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