GOP Senate Candidates Take Their Cues From Trump, Not From Republican Voters

Ohio GOP Candidates Are So Extreme That They'd Rather See Cincinnati's Brent Spence Bridge Collapse Than Back Anything Bipartisan

As we saw yesterday, voters are very much in favor of the infrastructure bill about to pass the Senate. And it isn't merely Democrats and independents but even Republican voters. In the Data for Progress poll, 71% of likely Republican voters back the bill. Opposition to the bill is primarily from extreme GOP partisans-- and that includes most Republican candidates, who are, apparently more attuned to what Señor Trumpanzee wants than to what voters want, and especially not interested in what general election voters want. But voters generally do not like the kind of knee-jerk obstructionism being espoused by Republican Senate candidates in Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri.

Take Ohio. One of the architects of the bill is retiring Senator Rob Portman. The Republican candidates to replace him are all over themselves in denouncing the bill, in tune with extremists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, not with Ohio's own Republican senator.

It's hard to say which Republican Senate candidate is more extreme right-- they're all vying for the position-- but Josh Mandel is certainly in the top 2. His campaign manager told CNN that "The current infrastructure bill is filled with the far left's wasteful wish list including the Green New Deal, gender identity and empowering woke bureaucrats," squeezing as many neo-fascist bumpersticker phrases into the short statement as he could.

"The divide between Republicans on Capitol Hill and in Senate primaries isn't unique to Ohio, reflecting how Trump's influence now largely rests with the primary electorate, rather than with sitting GOP senators," wrote Manu Raju and Alex Rogers... "In intraparty contests throughout the country, Republican candidates are lining up against the bipartisan deal-- and lining up with Trump-- reflecting not only the heightened partisanship in American politics but also how primaries incentivize candidates to demonstrate purity to their base voters."

The duo continued that "The GOP senators who support the bipartisan infrastructure bill... say it's essential for Republicans to show that they're not just a knee-jerk opposition party and can instead find consensus on pressing national problems important to voters."

"They're in the middle of a primary," said Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who backs the plan, referring to GOP Senate candidates. "So when you're in a campaign, you don't have time to go into a group and spend 10 minutes, 15 minutes, as I have, explaining why this makes sense, and why I think it could lessen the damage of the bill that (Democrats) will follow up with."
Asked if he believes that Trump is influencing the views of the candidates, Tillis said: "I'm sure that has an influence."
Yet Trump's opposition to the plan has had little influence in the halls of the Senate, where even GOP senators who are up for reelection-- like Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Todd Young of Indiana-- voted to move forward with the bill on the initial procedural vote.
Murkowski, who will face Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka if she runs for reelection next year, was central to cutting the deal. Murkowski was blunt when asked if Trump's opposition would affect any GOP votes in the Senate: "It hasn't affected mine."
Young refused to weigh in on Trump's view of the bill, declining several requests for comment on the topic. But the first-term Indiana Republican indicated he was likely to support the bill "unless I find something really objectionable-- and I haven't so far."
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Republican whip who hasn't declared yet whether he's running for another term next year, hasn't ruled out supporting the bill on final passage. But he had a warning for the GOP.
"I think the politics work for both sides," Thune said. "I think that if you're a Republican you want to prove that you're not just here to completely block and stop the entire agenda if you find areas that are good for you know the country and then you want to be a part of trying to solve those problems."
In Tillis' state of North Carolina, the consensus is clear: The three top GOP candidates-- former Gov. Pat McCrory, Rep. Ted Budd and former Rep. Mark Walker-- are flatly opposed to the bill.
"Ted is against the legislation as it currently stands," said Budd adviser Jonathan Felts.
"Gov. McCrory believes that the positive items in the package cannot overcome the problematic aspects of it," said McCrory adviser Jordan Shaw.
And Walker tweeted, "The small portion of the infrastructure bill for paving roads will be needed by our children for driving to their local Bank of China branch to pay off their share of the national debt."
Meanwhile, in the real world: the Hiddenite Bridge in Alexander County, North Carolina

But Republicans who back the bill say it's sorely needed to help rebuild roads, bridges, waterways and bolster rural broadband. They note it would not raise taxes-- and is paid for by a range of measures, such as redirecting Covid relief funds.
On the floor on Wednesday night, Portman made the case for the bill's importance to Ohio, stressing it would ease congestion on I-75 in his state and help with many of the 44,736 bridges there.
...But Trump has made his position clear, calling the legislation a "loser" for the U.S.-- without explaining his rationale.
"Don't do it Republicans-- Patriots will never forget! If this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!" he said in a statement.
It's not clear many primary candidates are ready to defy him.
None of the top Ohio GOP candidates-- Mandel, a former Ohio Treasurer, former Ohio Republican Party chairwoman Jane Timken, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons-- support the deal.
"I would support targeted infrastructure spending that addresses the real needs of roads, bridges and broadband for Ohioans that does not raise taxes or add to the bloated federal deficit, but unfortunately this bill in its current form does not do that," said Timken in a statement.
Vance said on the Bill Cunningham radio show in July that while "Republicans are bending over backwards to get this deal ... really, it's just a partisan hatchet job. The Democrats are going to clean up later."
Meanwhile, Democrats are running on the Senate's bipartisan bill, bolstered by national polls showing broad support for investing in US infrastructure.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a Senate candidate, told CNN that he has "long advocated for rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges, cleaning up waterways, removing dangerous lead pipes, growing our domestic electric vehicles industry, maintaining strong Buy American and prevailing wage protections, and finally fixing the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati."
"While there is a lot that Democrats and Republicans do not agree on, rebuilding our nation's infrastructure is one where we can, and should work together," he added.
Trump increased the debt by almost $7.8 trillion in office, but only a small minority of Republicans opposed his massive tax cuts and spending during the pandemic.
But Republican candidates are now sharply criticizing President Joe Biden for pushing for the infrastructure bill after already signing into law a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package earlier this year. They point to rising inflation as a major concern; In June consumer prices increased by the most in 13 years, as the economy reopened.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican retiring next year, voted to move ahead with the bill on the first procedural vote and may support it on final passage. He said that it's easy to mix up a traditional infrastructure bill with the larger Democratic package of social programs.
"I think there are two views of this and two views of how to explain it," Blunt said. "And there's some concern that it gets confused with the bigger bill that really is a new government program kind of bill, as opposed to government doing more of what governments always done."
But at least two top Republicans running for Blunt's seat-- state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and former governor Eric Greitens-- oppose the bill. Schmitt called the bill "a reckless spending package that will only add to our growing national debt while Americans are dealing with record inflation."
And Greitens told CNN, "It is disappointing that some weak RINOs completely caved to Nancy Pelosi and Democrats who want to push irresponsible socialist legislation that jeopardizes the future of all Americans."

Lucas Kunce, the only Democrat likely to flip the Missouri seat blue told us last night that "It's pathetic that these clowns are cool with increasing debt by cutting taxes for billionaires and multinational corporations that ship our jobs overseas but hate investing in America and working Americans who love and support their country and would never sell it out the way these elites have. The Republican candidates for this seat show just how broken our system is. In order to get that mogul money for their campaigns, they are willing to use American resources to enrich their corrupt funders rather than invest in roads, good jobs, and American production."

It's a similar situation in North Carolina-- again fringe GOP candidates pushing them hiokle field right and some GOP-lite Democrats... except one: Erica Smith. Last night Erica told me that we need to be be clear: "there is not a single Republican candidate for US Senate in this race who’s the least bit concerned with actually representing North Carolinians. This performative opposition to a bill widely supported and desperately needed by North Carolinians is disappointing, but not surprising. Ted Budd, Pat McCrory, and Mark Walker should apply for a job at Mar-A-Lago instead of running for U.S. Senate. That way they can do what they want to be doing, serving Donald Trump, without hurting working people." You can contribute to both Erica and Lucas by tapping on the 2022 Senate thermometer above.