Political prognostication is one of the dark arts, no question about that, but it does have rules. Or starting points, at the very least. Chief among those, is that the political apparatus of an incumbent senator’s own party is going to get the senator reelected, and that the endorsement of the sitting president of one’s own party is the greatest boon a senator running for reelection can have. Enter Donald Trump, who himself broke all the rules of political physics, and incumbent Republican senators running for reelection find themselves in a Salvador Dali-esque landscape, where nothing is normal and the scene keeps shifting with alarming rapidity. The question then becomes an unthinkable one, and that is, stay with Trump or desert him because that’s the only way to survive?
In recent days, this question has become exacerbated to an extreme never before seen in politics, let alone the Republican party. Sunday morning, former National Security Adviser Colin Powell became the latest Republican to announce that he was not supporting Trump but would vote for Joe Biden. This is in wake of Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, and Cindy McCain indicating that they won’t support the Republican incumbent. Astonishingly, last week former Bush staffers formed a super PAC “43 Alumni for Biden” in order to raise money to elect Joe Biden and of course the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican strategists, got that ball rolling months ago. Joe Biden intends to announce a group, “Republicans for Biden” in the days ahead, as well.
So how does this affect down ballot races, most importantly, senate races? Politico:
The potentially awful news for Republican Senate candidates is another historical trend: the increasing link between votes cast for a Presidential contender and votes cast for senators, which makes it harder to create distance from an unpopular incumbent.
It wasn’t that long ago that ticket-splitting was commonplace. In 1992, 10 Senate candidates were elected from states that had given their electoral votes to the other party. But as party identification became more and more the key indicator of how votes were cast, this impulse all but disappeared. In 2016, every victorious Senate candidate came from a state whose presidential votes had gone to the same party. The days when Republican Al D’Amato could retain his New York Senate seat in the wake of a million-vote plurality for Bill Clinton in 1992 seem a distant memory.
Now turn to the Senate map, and it’s clear how these factors combine to produce a migraine for any strategist looking to hold the Senate for the Republicans. Not that long ago, Republicans were a good bet to hold the Senate even though they held 23 of the 35 contested seats. Only two—Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine—were in states that HillaryClinton carried in 2016. Even with Arizona and North Carolina as potential Presidential battlegrounds, that left at most four vulnerable Republicans. And with Alabama Democrat Doug Jones a very likely loser, there was little breathing room for Democrats to pick up the three net seats they’d need to capture the Senate, assuming Biden wins in November.
Now—at least measured by polls—a passel of states now seem within Biden’s reach, many of them with incumbent Republican senators up for re-election. He’s even in Georgia, where both incumbent Republican senators will be on the ballot; he’s even in Iowa, where Joni Ernst is up for re-election. And if Biden is going to make a real fight in Georgia and Iowa, that means a get-out-the-vote effort that will bring a lot of Democrats to the polls there.
It’s no new information that when the electorate turns out, Democrats win. And if we are to go by the example of voters pouring out to the polls in 2018, which allowed us to shift House leadership, that may happen again, and in fact, increase, due to a number of factors:
- Donald Trump is historically unpopular. No other president even comes close;
- His botching of the coronavirus and the collateral damage to the economy were giant factors mitigating against him already;
- Add to these elements his complete mishandling of the murder of George Floyd, which he has then compounded daily with the arrival of mysterious troops in Washington, D.C. and his war with the Mayor.
- Top it all off with the ongoing idiocy in Congress, where Lindsey Graham seeks to smear Joe Biden and go after Robert Mueller. Trump and his cohorts are egregiously out of touch not to mention desperate, ergo they do stupid things.
The electorate is a sleeping giant. If Trump has managed to fill it with a terrible resolve and it’s reasonable to assume that, then he will not only be toast in November, but so will his loyalists up for reelection and the GOP-led Senate may shift to the Democrats. One can only wish, because what’s at stake here is far more than the usual partisan issues. The survival of democracy itself is at issue, or there would not be the outpouring of bipartisan unity that you see, to take down Trump. These are not normal times, do not expect the normal rules of political engagement to apply.