How Vulnerable GOP Senators Are Reacting To Trump’s Scandals
In the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans captured control of the House & Senate. In 2018, Trump-weary Americans led the Democrats to take back control of the House, which had been majority Republican since the 2010 elections. Because of COVID-19 and historic unemployment numbers that Trump-weariness has intensified, and now Republicans are concerned about losing control of the Senate this election cycle.
There are currently eight Senate races in which the Republican incumbent is facing strong opposition and is at risk of losing their seat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has let Republican Senators know they can distance themselves from Trump if they feel they need to, but in July when that signaling began, that meant to advocate wearing a mask and supporting policies. Given all eight of these Republican Senators voted to acquit President Trump in his impeachment trial, it will be difficult for them to “distance themselves.”
Now, any efforts of separation would have to include denouncing Trump’s apparent disdain for dead service members, downplaying and at times outright lying to the American public about the seriousness of the pandemic, and taking some sort of stand on whatever else is revealed through the Woodward interview tapes. Amid these developments, vulnerable Republicans reportedly “avoid answering questions from reporters, taking back staircases and entrances to avoid areas where the press congregates.”
In early July, Vanity Fair reported that “A Republican strategist close to Mitch McConnell” said “that Republicans have Labor Day penciled in as the deadline for Trump to have turned things around. After that, he’s on his own.” On top of poor polling against Biden and reports that the Trump campaign is in financial trouble, the party now must deal with the explosive headlines from The Atlantic piece and the Woodward tapes.
Let’s take a look at how each of these eight Senators has reacted to Trump. All polling numbers we use are averages taken from the variety of polls provided by RealClearPolitics.
Senator Martha McSally, Arizona
After serving in the Air Force for 22 years, McSally served two terms as the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 2nd congressional district starting in 2015.
As a member of the House, McSally established herself as a moderate, and prior to her interest in a Senate seat, she had expressed disdain for Trump. According to a 2017 report from Politico, “McSally never endorsed Trump in 2016, and she called his comments about sexual assault ‘disgusting’ and ‘unacceptable.’” When Jeff Flake (a frequent critic of Trump) announced he would retire from the Senate, McSally began to embrace Trump, aligning herself more with his messaging and policies. It was clear she realized that it was more beneficial to her own aspirations if she aligned herself with Trump.
That appears to have paid off, to a point. While that 2017 pivot toward more conservative values did not win her a Senate seat (Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won that election), when interim Senator Jon Kyl (appointed after Senator John McCain died) resigned from his Senate seat, Governor Doug Ducey (R) appointed McSally to succeed him in 2019. Her current run against Democrat Mark Kelly is a special election to determine if she will serve the remainder of the Senate term. That places her in a special position—she is in the seat McCain used to hold, she served 22 years in the Air Force, where is her outrage?
Regarding Trump’s response to COVID-19, McSally has followed suit. She has praised his response to the pandemic and in April she called for the resignation of the World Health Organization’s director-general. While her current situation does not look great, Kelly is polling 7 points ahead, she has not yet separated herself from Trump. She is so desperate that she even asked her supporters to fast a meal and in exchange donate to her campaign. It is not surprising that someone who is asking her supporters to go hungry is not concerned with addressing Trump’s support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or his lack of respect for service members.
She stands firm with Trump’s messaging about mail-in voting, but at the same time tells Arizonians that their mail-in votes are safe. When asked if Trump made a mistake by misleading Americans about coronavirus, McSally told CNN: “You guys are awful.”
Senator Cory Gardner, Colorado
Gardner served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2005 to 2011 before he moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015. In 2014 he narrowly defeated Colorado incumbent Senator Mark Udall and his seat has been seriously eyed by the Democrats as a weak point for the 2020 election.
Largely viewed as one of the most bipartisan Senators, Gardner took a chance in 2016 and stated that Trump should step aside, he even went so far as to tweet that he would vote for Clinton because Trump was “a danger to our constitution, freedoms and security, who would sell our national security to the highest bidder and finalize the destruction of the rule of law.” Where is that common sense now?
Gardner appears to be one who does not put his money where his mouth is. Colorado voters are typically pro-conservation, Gardner talks the talk, but when you look at his voting record, it does not ring true. Before William Perry Pendley, the controversial Trump pick to head the Bureau of Land Management was pulled from consideration, Gardner refused to say whether or not he supported Pendley. This was extremely troublesome for a state that is pro-conservation and Gardner had pushed for the relocation of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington to Colorado.
Gardner was elected largely by mail-in ballots in 2014 and has good things to say about how Colorado conducts elections and includes mail-in ballots, but holds firm to the messaging the Trump administration is engaging in about the non-existent “dangers” of mail-in voting.
He also echoes Trump’s messaging on pre-existing conditions. Gardner’s bill on pre-existing conditions has been called “117 words of election fodder.” Gardner’s Senate Bill 4506 does not have guaranteed protections and is written in a way that would not have a lot of practical implementation. Gardner is skilled at this, he is an attorney, which means he knows which words and phrases have actual power under the law and which words and phrases make for good sound bites.
In August, Gardner held the Trump line that public health experts, scientists, and the press were politicizing the pandemic when he said “You want to talk about trust? Trust is when you hear health experts say, ‘I don’t agree with what you’re doing because it’s against the health rules but what you’re doing is just fine because it agrees with me philosophically and politically,’” at the Steamboat Institute’s annual Freedom Conference. Gardner has dodged questions about the Woodward tapes.
Where is his outrage now that the Woodward tapes have revealed that Trump’s messaging about the pandemic was not only misleading but at times outright lies that have cost American lives. True to form, it seems Gardner will continue to speak out of one side of his mouth.
Former Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper is currently leading Gardner by about 8 points. As someone who felt it necessary to come out so strongly against Trump in 2016, why is Gardner standing with him now after the recent revelations confirm that Trump is indeed that threat Gardner warned us about? Will Trump help him close that 8-point gap? Is Gardner’s election so much more important than the danger Trump has placed us in?
Senator David Perdue, Georgia
Senator David Perdue used his extensive career in business and his status as a turnaround wizard as the focal point of his campaign. As the former VP at Sara Lee Corporation, former president and CEO of Reebok, and former CEO of Dollar General, he had established himself as a strong entity in the business world. He began his political career with the 2014 Senate election in Georgia and defeated Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn. He became the first Fortune 500 CEO elected to the Senate.
In 2020, he is running against Democrat Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist and former congressional staffer who broke national fundraising records during a failed run for a Congressional seat in 2017. Ossoff is known for being the catalyst of record turnouts for Democratic, young, and non-white voters in Georgia, which is why the current Senate race in Georgia is viewed as a tenuous one for Perdue. The race has also encouraged a lot of out-of-state organizations to pour money into the mix.
Perdue claims he needs to win twice the number of votes than he did in 2014 to defeat Ossoff and the Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel. While Perdue has cut Trump from his ads, Perdue has declined to comment on the unrest since George Floyd’s death, and although his record on pre-existing conditions and health care is similar to Gardner’s, he claims to favor protections for pre-existing conditions but acts against the protections for them. He also acts in the same manner as McSally and Gardner regarding mail-in votes, they are “handled correctly and that every single vote will count” in Georgia, but at the same time speaks about the USPS being a “big bureaucratic effort that has never really been run well.” Even though many of his constituents rely on the USPS for their prescriptions, he also asserts that “commercial players” will be able to pick up the slack. That indicates he is unconcerned with the increased prices for shipping of medication that would cause.
Considered one of Trump’s most important allies in the Senate, Perdue did not attend the RNC event at the White House, but did compare himself to Trump as a political outsider with a business background. He used the Trump campaign’s rhetoric of the “radical Democrats” and an “optimistic future” in a statement he issued.
Rather than address the revelations that Trump called dead service members “losers” and “suckers,” in recent days, Perdue rolled out several endorsements from service members on his Twitter account. In a state that has nine military installations, you would think Trump’s disrespect of service members would at least elicit some concern from a sitting Senator, but Perdue chooses to remain silent and hold the party line.
Perdue responded to the Woodward tapes by saying: “I understand trying to manage the psyche of the country and also look at the actions that he took. … I look at what he did — and it was certainly a strong response.”
Currently holding a 4.3 point lead over Ossoff, Perdue knows his chances are shrinking and needs to hang onto his fellow “outsider” Trump.
Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa
Like McSally, Ernst is also a veteran. Between the United States Army and the Iowa National Guard, she served 22 years. Ernst began her political career as a member of the Iowa State Senate from 2011-2014. In 2014, she won the Senate race against former Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley. Her current opponent, Democrat Theresa Greenfield is a relative unknown. Her only political experience is a 2018 congressional primary. Despite her lack of political experience, Greenfield is giving Ernst a run for her money with a current lead of less than 1 point.
Ernst’s 2014 campaign was largely supported by “dark money” and she is struggling to maintain support now. That struggle was obvious when she suggested Trump accept his current nomination from Des Moines, IA. She has always followed Trump’s lead when it comes to policy and messaging. Her only criticisms of him have included the significant cost to taxpayers that Trump’s frequent visits to Mar-a-Lago incur and her slight, but not defined opposition to trade and tariff issues. Ernst’s constituency is largely agricultural, and these issues have a large impact on them.
Even as Ernst faces enormous push back in Iowa on the biofuels issue, she is unwilling to go against Trump and ask for more appropriate responses from the EPA to protect her state.
As one of only two out of 23 senators up for reelection who spoke at the RNC, Ernst is holding on to Trump with everything she has. In her remarks, she made it clear that she fully embraces Trump’s agenda. Immediately prior to the RNC, Iowa suffered a devastating derecho which destroyed about 35% of Iowa’s corn harvest and left thousands without power for more than a week. While Ernst claims the federal relief for the derecho was fast, critics claim that it does not provide enough aid to farmers.
Ernst supports Trump so whole-heartedly that she has even gone so far as to suggest medical professionals are lying about COVID numbers in order to secure better funding. This is certainly in line with the conspiracy theories that Trump so often seems to support. Ernst declined to comment on the Woodward revelations, telling CNN: “I haven’t read it, I haven’t seen it, so give me a chance to take a look.”
Her unyielding support of Trump and her echoing of unproven claims shows that not only is she on-board with Trump, but is hanging on to him in an effort to save her seat, regardless of the consequences that will have for her constituency.
Senator Susan Collins, Maine
After graduating college Collins worked as a legislative assistant and was staff director for the United States Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management. She then held various other posts before returning to Maine and running for Governor in 1994. She was elected to the Senate in 1996 and has been re-elected three times. In her current race, she is up against Democrat Sara Gideon, the current Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
In all three of her previous re-elections Collins has prevailed with double-digit leads, some overwhelmingly so, but she is facing fierce competition from Gideon who currently holds a 6.5 point lead.
In 2016 Collins did come out and state she would not vote for Trump, she wrote, “Donald Trump does not reflect historical Republican values nor the inclusive approach to governing that is critical to healing the divisions in our country,” she continued, “Mr. Trump did not stop with shedding the stilted campaign dialogue that often frustrates voters. Instead, he opted for a constant stream of denigrating comments, including demeaning Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) heroic military service and repeatedly insulting Fox News host Megyn Kelly.”
Since his election, she has slowly but surely backed away from her stance that he is not fit for office. Known as a moderate Republican prior to the Trump era, she has now settled in as a more traditional Republican who is not willing to break from the party line. Collins voted to acquit President Trump in his impeachment trial, and infamously said he learned his lesson. Once one of the most unpopular Senators in the country, Collins is now taking hits from both sides for not continuing to call out Trump and not continuing her long-standing efforts of working toward bipartisan efforts to improve America’s circumstances.
Finally, she has made a moderate statement against Trump. While she still refuses to say whether or not she will vote for Trump in November, during a recent campaign debate she said “The American people can take hard facts. And he had an obligation as President to be straightforward with them and to tell all that he has known,” when asked about the revelations in the Woodward tapes that Trump knew how dangerous COVID-19 is but chose to downplay it to the American public.
I must say, I am feeling concerned and disappointed that we have not heard anything from Collins about Trump’s continued disparaging remarks about service members or his support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Collins is waffling as usual. While she will not go so far as to say she supports Trump, she will not denounce him either. She does have other high-profile supporters such as former President Bush and a fiercely loyal following in Maine, but it may not be enough this time.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Senator Steve Daines, Montana
After working in business at Procter & Gamble and RightNow Technologies, Daines lost a bid for Lieutenant Governor of Montana in 2008. In 2012, he won Montana’s at-large U.S. House of Representatives seat, and in 2014 Daines won his current Senate seat. His current opponent is Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.
Daines immediately established himself as pro-Trump and is quick to come to Trump’s defense. As another businessman turned politician, maybe that is where his alliance comes from, similar to that of Perdue. When asked about Trump’s response to the pandemic Daines said “I think he’s done a good job, I do. The president prepared for the worst, and thankfully we’re starting to see declines in infection rates and now it’s time to start safely opening up the economy.”
Daines fully supported putting money towards a border wall without providing provisions to secure those funds and has maintained that the impeachment trial was an attempt to overturn the 2016 Presidential election.
Like Gardner, Daines had to deal with fallout related to William Perry Pendley, the controversial Trump pick to head the Bureau of Land Management who was pulled from consideration. Daines never made his position on Pendley clear. Like Ernst, Daines constituents are largely impacted by Trump’s decisions on trade and tariffs, yet he remains silent.
The one point he seems to deviate from Trump on is the USPS crisis. While Susan Collins is the main sponsor of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, Daines and Gardner are co-sponsors. The Act would provide the USPS with $25 billion in emergency funding. That is overshadowed by a strange recent development about mail-in voting the Montana Free Press reported that a website paid for by Daines campaign promotes mail-in voting, but only for Trump supporters. Before a visitor to the site can access the request for a mail-in ballot they must first answer “yes” to the question “Do You Support President Trump?” This revelation comes amidst a lawsuit filed by Trump and the RNC against mail-in voting in Montana.
While most Senators declined to comment on law enforcement’s behavior at Trump’s direction for a photo-op at St. John’s church in June, Daines said he is “grateful for the president’s leadership.” Hook, line, and sinker is not the apt metaphor here, it is clear that Daines has fully embraced Trump and sees the Republican Party as the Party of Trump, the appropriate metaphor for Daines is that he has drunk the Kool-Aid. Not only will we not see any criticism of Trump from Daines, we know not to expect it at this point.
Daines is maintaining a very small lead of two points over Bullock. His fawning over Trump will continue as he hopes to hold onto whatever votes aligning himself with Trump will bring him.
Senator Thom Tillis, North Carolina
Prior to his political career, Senator Tillis worked for Price Waterhouse and IBM. In 2006, he won a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, which he held onto until 2015 when he took the Senate seat from Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. His current opponent is Democrat Cal Cunningham, a former North Carolina State Senator.
He briefly opposed President Donald Trump’s national emergency to build a border wall and attempted to work across the aisle regarding immigration and the Mueller probe. Once he encountered strong opposition in the primary and was accused of being an enemy of the Trump agenda, Tillis decided to grab onto Trump and not let go.
Tillis seems to enjoy maintaining a low profile and will go where the tide pushes him. He concerns himself with low-profile issues such as patent reform and intellectual property protections, he is mostly silent on the issues of the pandemic, racial injustice, and other pressing matters. Like Gardner and Perdue he talks the talk when it comes to pre-existing conditions and healthcare, but pushes legislation that does not provide adequate protections.
He skipped Trump’s visit to Charlotte where Trump thanked the RNC delegates for his nomination, and while Tillis did not speak at the RNC, he was in attendance for Trump’s acceptance speech. He may have been better off staying away completely because his decision to not wear a mask brought some pretty heavy criticism from his opponent Cunningham. In response, Tillis stated “I’ve stressed the importance of mask-wearing throughout this pandemic and have tried to lead by example on this issue, but last night I fell short of my own standard,” which is far off from Trump’s normal messaging that wearing a mask makes you look weak.
With Cunningham holding a steady 3 point plus lead of Tillis, a re-evaluation of his silent support of Trump might do him well. The VoteVets Super PAC launched a $2.7 million campaign to boost Cunningham and oust Tillis.
Tillis now also finds himself in the middle of the controversy over U.S. Postmaster DeJoy pressuring employees at his former business in North Carolina to donate to Republican candidates. Employees would donate to a campaign and end up with bonuses. Tillis’s 2014 campaign was the recipient of almost $300,000 from people at the company. While we know that such mundane things as campaign finance violations are not even a consideration for the likes of Trump, what does this bump in the road mean for Tillis?
Tillis responded to the Woodward tapes with this statement to CNN: “When you’re in a crisis situation, you have to inform people for their public health but you also don’t want to create hysteria.”
With his quiet nature and tendency to avoid conflict, I do not think we can expect to hear anything from Tillis that might constitute even a side-step away from Trump at this point.
Senator Lindsey Graham, South Carolina
Graham is a veteran with six years of service in the U.S. Air Force, six years in the South Carolina National Guard, and ten years in the reserve. His political career began in 1993 as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, from 1995 to 2003 he served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 2003 he succeeded long-time Senator Strom Thurmond. Graham won re-election in 2008 and 2014.
Like McSally, Gardner, Collins, and Tillis, Graham has not always been a Trump supporter. Graham tweeted in 2015 “At the heart of [Trump’s] statement is a lack of respect for those who have served – a disqualifying characteristic to be president” after Trump attacked Senator John McCain. This shows us that Graham is at least aware that Trump is capable of the derogatory comments about military service members identified by The Atlantic, but he did not condemn Trump after the report. In 2016 Graham stated “I’m not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump because I don’t think there’s a whole lot of space there. I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.” He did not vote for Trump in 2016.
Graham feels secure enough from attacks from Trump that he cited Jill Biden as “an outstanding person who has led a consequential life” after her speech at the DNC, and stood up for NASCAR & Bubba Wallace when they came under fire from Trump, but he has not come out and scolded Trump for anything recent or anything near what we heard from the 2015 & 2016 Graham.
Over the last four years, Graham has become a Trump sycophant. He has visited Trump properties more than any other member of Congress, protects Trump at every turn, refers to him as the “strongest voice in America in support of police and votes in-line with Trump 87% of the time.
Graham set up Trump’s first interview with Woodward, which somehow ended with Trump speaking to Woodward on the record eighteen times for Woodward’s book Rage. Because of this admission, we got to see Tucker Carlson take Graham to task.
While Graham currently holds a 7.4-point lead against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, the race is shaping up to be the closest race Graham has ever encountered. When he took Thurmond’s seat, he won 54% of the vote, in 2008 nearly 58% of the vote and in 2014 he took 56% of a vote that was split between four contenders.
Considering his past comments and criticism of Trump, why has Graham not spoken out now? Now that we have the information from The Atlantic, now that Trump has failed miserably in protecting us from COVID-19, and now that we have the Woodward tapes?
The Rantt Rundown
Yet, it has been about 2 weeks since The Atlantic story about Trump calling those who died in military service “losers” and “suckers” and not one of these Senators has said a word about it. Many of them know their constituencies are full of veterans and others who support the military and might be hoping this story goes away. With the AP, Fox News, and the Washington Post confirming the story with their own sources, it does not seem like anything that will pass, so where do these Senators stand? Do they also think the same way about our brave comrades who serve this country, or are they so beholden to Trump and the money he may bring to their campaigns that they cannot speak out?
Now we have the Woodward tapes as well. Trump downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 and he “saved the ass” of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Where is the outrage coming from those sworn to protect us. Senators take an oath that they will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” yet here we sit with Trump meddling in election policies for mail-in voting during a pandemic that he fully knew was going to be devastating. They sat by and watched as Trump lied to the American public that COVID-19 was going to just “go away,” and now as nearly 200,000 Americans are dead on this man’s watch, these Senators cannot find their own footing enough to speak out and save what we have left.
Rantt Media reached out to each of these Senators’ offices and campaigns for comment on the allegations brought by The Atlantic story, the Woodward tapes, Trump’s response to the pandemic, and his support of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and we received no response.
Regardless of what they have said in the past, all these eight Senators voted to acquit Trump for the crimes committed as determined by the House impeachment, and they all hold some responsibility for where we find ourselves now.