Trump Is A Sinking Ship Taking The GOP With Him

Republicans tied their political fate to Donald Trump. Trump swept them into power in 2016 and it's likely he will leave the party in shambles in 2020.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, before the start of a meeting with House and Senate Leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, before the start of a meeting with House and Senate Leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Before beginning this assessment of Donald Trump’s campaign and the impact that it’s having on the Republican Party, it’s important to state that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. However, it cannot be ignored that the signs aren’t good for the President.

In 2016, at this stage of the campaign, polls showed that Hillary Clinton had a narrow lead, sometimes within the margin of error. Four years later, polls regularly show Joe Biden with a more substantial lead of 10% or more. This is supported by the state-by-state polls that give a greater insight into what’s happening on the ground in key battleground states, including places that Republicans once considered safe. The reality is that Donald Trump’s campaign is a sinking ship and he is taking the rest of the Republican Party with him.

During the 2016 election, one of the elements that propelled Trump to head the Republican Party’s primary field, easily overtaking seasoned politicians who’d been longstanding members of the GOP, was his ability to suck all the oxygen out of the campaign. By dominating the political sphere and media coverage, he ensured in 2016 that, whenever the election was discussed, he was the primary topic of conversation. Embracing the old proverb that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’, he was happy with any attention, positive or negative, as long he was the only candidate in the minds of voters.

Arguably, he actually preferred the negative publicity because it would allow him to get into a dogfight, sometimes in live debate and sometimes on Twitter, capturing the attention of the media, distracting them, and playing into his plan for domination of the conversation. Once he had seized control of the Republican Party, he began to deploy those same tactics to seize control of the presidency. Again, he smothered the political dialogue, preventing Clinton from gaining traction because everything was framed around Trump rather than her political agenda. This all worked to plan and to the Republican Party’s favor, delivering them control of the House, the Senate, and the White House.

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In 2020, Trump is still dominating American politics. Doing so ensures that Democrats and Republicans are confronted with having to address, defend or challenge his actions and comments and the impact that they have. Over the last few years, Trump’s presidency has resulted in many voters, including some who supported him in 2016, becoming very disillusioned with him.

Republicans who align themselves with Trump and his agenda often face severe criticism from voters, outside of Trump’s base. Despite this, the Republican Party has become so cowed by the cult of personality Trump has created that they will attempt to justify everything he does, from his failed handling of the coronavirus outbreak to stoking division in the midst of international protests over racial inequality. The reality is that, because Trump is at the forefront of voters’ minds, every Republican candidate running for office is directly tied to his agenda and to his presidential record.

Previous challengers have often found that presidential campaigns can be an uphill battle because the incumbent has access to a platform that isn’t available to them. This time around, Democrats cannot contain their glee when Trump holds a press conference or a rally. It seems that every time he speaks, he commits self-sabotage thus making his approval numbers worse. The White House’s coronavirus press briefings aptly demonstrate this, with a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey finding that 60% do not approve of how Trump is managing the outbreak. That’s why Democrats are, potentially, pleased to see that these briefings have returned because it will increase the brightness of the spotlight shining on the Trump administration’s failures and inability to protect America during a crisis.

The polls indicate that, if the election happened today, the damage inflicted by Trump would not just keep the House in Democratic hands and deliver the White House keys to Joe Biden, but would also flip the Senate blue. States that were once considered safe red seats (Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina) not only have Democratic challengers clipping at the heels of their opponents but, in recent polls in all six of those areas, Democrats are leading the Republican incumbents.

In past campaigns, the Republican Party would benefit from fundraising enabling them to deploy millions of dollars in ad buys in those states, but even that doesn’t appear to be an effective strategy this time around. In June, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) posted a record-breaking haul of $14 million, although the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) wasn’t far behind with $13.6 million. In fact, the DSCC actually has more cash on hand, leading the NRSC by $7.7 million.

Republican politicians now face a difficult choice. If they express criticisms of, or disagreements with, the President, voters might consider this to be a self-serving and insincere attempt to gain some political advantage, given that those same politicians have become so intertwined with Trump’s agenda. Alternatively, Republican officeholders could pit themselves against Trump and risk facing the inevitable repercussions arising from having triggered Trump’s ire, possibly ending their political career and, also, potentially weakening the GOP’s performance in the election. Of course, they could decide to continue to align themselves with Trump and take their chances with voters.

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Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) understands the first option. She is under pressure from voters in her own state of Maine to stand firm on issues that would put her in conflict with the President. However, while she will make mild critiques or express her concerns about Trump, thus far she has been unwilling to fully break with the party. For example, her actions during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh drew criticism from both sides and saw her retreat back behind the cloak of the GOP.

Jeff Sessions is Trump’s former attorney general and recently tried to follow the second option during his campaign to regain his Alabama Senate seat. After being repeatedly berated by Trump for his handling of the Mueller investigation, Sessions finally snapped and tried to hit back at the President on Twitter by defending his decision to recuse himself from the investigation, justifying his actions as attorney general. That did nothing to win over voters and only emboldened Trump’s attacks, resulting in Sessions losing his re-election campaign in a seat he once won with 97% of the vote, his successful opponent being a former football coach with no political experience. Those examples and more show just why Republicans are so powerless as their party is ripped apart.

Some astute Republicans know that there is only one thing left to do. They have to destroy Donald Trump’s political career, regardless of the collateral damage for the GOP as a whole, or he’ll destroy them, potentially wreaking further havoc on America and putting Republicans out of office for the foreseeable future. That’s why the Lincoln Project sprung up and has gained so much traction on social media. The individuals behind it are long-term Republican supporters, strategists, and operatives. They do not support the Democratic Party, its agenda or its presidential nominee. However, they are clear that they will do whatever it takes to remove Donald Trump and his ideology from the Republican Party for good, as well as removing those who have acted as Trump’s enablers. That might mean they have to temporarily hurt the party they have supported for so long, in order to regain control of the GOP. However, they believe that if they don’t now take the drastic steps needed, there might not be much of a future for the GOP.

Members of the Republican Party have to accept what is currently happening, even if they don’t like it. They can stand by Donald Trump and watch him throw away the presidency and the Senate with his chaotic and divisive campaign, or they can accept that this President is a lost cause, ditch him and cut their losses. Republican politicians can risk their jobs and take a stand, or watch voters take that stand for them and send them packing in November. If Republicans want to protect democratic processes in the US and avoid the destruction of the GOP, they must take drastic action now to distance themselves from Donald Trump before it’s too late. Republican politicians must seize this moment and choose party over Trump.

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Opinion // 2020 / Donald Trump / Elections / House / Republican Party / Senate