Writing for the Washington Post yesterday, Michael Scherer, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement reported what most political observers already know— voters don’t want either Biden or Trump to run but agree that Biden is the lesser evil. They base their report on 2 focus groups of swing voters— people who had voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. “The results of two focus groups conducted for the Washington Post by research firms Engagious and Seago, echoed research that Democratic strategists have been doing in recent months in preparation for the 2024 presidential campaign. Public polling has shown clear majorities of the American people— including many Democratic-leaning voters— are concerned about Biden’s health and do not want him to run again. But in both focus groups and polling, concerns about another Trump presidency are even greater, leaving Biden in a much better position if the two men meet in a rematch. The results suggest the possibility of a frustrating and dispiriting election season for many Americans.”
Potential down-ballot GOP candidates are very aware of this dynamic— and holding back. Yesterday, Ally Mutnick and Holly Otterbein reported that mainstream conservatives don’t want to share a ballot with Trump. Their sources tell them that “As Republicans start to assemble a crop of contenders that can retake the Senate and grow their excruciatingly thin majority in the House, they are running into a persistent complication. The current GOP presidential primary, and Trump’s early dominance, has spooked some potential down-ballot candidates… Many of their prospective recruits are wary of running alongside Trump, who dominates the spotlight, repels crucial independent voters and forces his fellow Republicans to answer for his unpredictable statements. It’s a dynamic that candidates don’t relish, and it has only come into sharper focus since Trump’s CNN town hall, when he spent 70 minutes on primetime television this month unleashing a torrent of incendiary remarks.”
“Trump’s resurgence,” they wrote, “has notably chilled recruitment across the country. ‘Some people have asked me, Should I run next year? If you’re in a swing district, I said, No,’ said former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who lost her suburban district in 2018 during a Trump-fueled Democratic wave. ‘If he’s going to be the nominee, you are better to wait and run after he washes out. Because you won’t have a prayer of winning.’” The reporters pointed to rich self-funders, Joe O’Dea— who Republicans want to take on pathetic Democratic freshman Yadira Caraveo in Colorado’s 8th congressional district— and David McCormick, the hedge fund manager they want to run for the Pennsylvania Senate seat against incumbent Bob Casey.
"The GOP’s path to the Senate majority," they reminded us, "runs primarily through the Trump-friendly states of Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. For Republicans in those places, Trump on the ballot is a plus— and they only need to flip two seats to take back control of the upper chamber if they lose the White House." Unless Lucas Kunce beats Josh Hawley— watch this video and contribute here so he can get it up on TV.
But Republicans also hope to put in play states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada, where Biden won narrowly. In those battlegrounds, many GOP strategists have watched the party underperform in three straight elections with Trump either in the White House or in control of the Republican Party— now they see Trump as a liability.
The House map is more challenging for Republicans than the Senate. Only five incumbent Democrats hold a district that Trump carried in 2020, meaning the GOP must win in suburban Biden turf to keep and expand their minuscule majority. That means enticing candidates to run alongside Trump.
“If they think President Trump’s going to be the nominee, they fear it’s going to be a bad year in 2024,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who predicted that if any other possible GOP presidential contender won the nomination the party could hold the House and take back the Senate. “But I fear that the one way that we’re going to shoot ourselves in both feet is if we have number 45 running at the top of our ticket.”
“When you have chaos above you, and bizarre statements made every day, things you can’t defend, it makes it challenging,” added Bacon, who has held a swing district since 2017.
O’Dea, a construction magnate who lost to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet by 15 points in 2022, notably drew Trump’s ire by refusing to kowtow to inaccurate claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. As the midterm results rolled in, the former president cheered Bennet’s win on his social media platform: “Joe O’Dea lost BIG!”
Recruiters have urged O’Dea to consider a run against freshman Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo in a highly competitive district that Biden won by 5 points— an area far less blue than the state as a whole. But his stance on Trump and abortion rights could complicate O’Dea’s bid before he even faces a Democratic opponent, making it difficult for him to prevail in a GOP primary.
“Trump is obviously part of the conversation in a big way,” a person close to O’Dea said. “The question is: Does the party want to move on and win and govern or do they want to look backwards?”
…The first question that many prospective congressional hopefuls ask is how Trump impacts their individual race, said two Republicans involved in finding candidates.
“That’s a huge factor. The top of the ticket matters,” said a potential GOP congressional candidate in Pennsylvania, granted anonymity to speak frankly about their thinking. “If someone had a crystal ball and could tell me who was on the top of the ticket, that would definitely affect my decision.”
Some GOP operatives said they have urged candidates to wait until 2026 when Trump may be done seeking elected office and few feel optimistic about winning back House seats in Kansas or New Hampshire that have swerved to the left in recent years. But other recruiters believe they can ultimately sway unsure candidates by pointing to 2020 and the success Republicans had in picking up House seats even as Trump lost the White House.
…Candidates like GOP Reps. David Valadao, Young Kim and Michelle Steel in California were able to create their own brand and win Democratic-leaning seats where Trump himself was not popular.
But it isn’t just Trump— nor noisy whackjob adherents of his in Congress like Marjorie Traitor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Matt Rosendale, Scott Perry, Paul Gosar and Anna Paulina Luna. Prominent loser MAGAt candidates, like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Kristina Karamo in Michigan, Dan Cox in Maryland and Kari Lake in Arizona, not to mention George Santos, are not making it easier to try to be a “normal” Republican this year. And eventually most of these clowns will be part of his cheering squad:
Last week, Julia Azari noted that Trump is leading a political movement, MAGA, not a political party and that when he won the presidential nomination in 2016, it was widely regarded as a “hostile takeover” of the GOP. She reminded her readers that “The degree to which the GOP has evolved to accommodate Trump has at times been stunning… People hate to see their team lose and will go to great lengths to justify defending it, even if it means undermining the norms and rules we all live under.”
“Trump,” she insists, “is not so much a party leader, but a movement figure. This might seem like the kind of distinction that only academics care about. But it’s key to understanding the current state of American politics, and the dilemmas now facing GOP leaders as the MAGA movement threatens to completely overtake the Republican Party itself.”
For Trump supporters and the MAGA movement, the indictment in New York, for instance, is not just evidence of partisan warfare; to them, it’s also evidence of a corrupt system where politics unduly influences law, and ordinary people like them are excluded and persecuted. Undermining such a system is a goal, not a drawback.
Movement adherents are in a weird relationship with both parties and presidents. Movements want fundamental change. Parties and presidents are usually more cautious: Presidents are charged with preserving the constitution, and parties tend to be risk-averse and protective of a winning election coalition.
Under normal circumstances, presidents and parties are caught in a cycle of mutual dependence, while sometimes working at odds with each other.
Presidents need parties to campaign and build support. Parties need presidents to attain their policy goals and hold on to power. But their incentives and objectives aren’t always aligned. Presidents are interested in their own careers and legacies, and parties are focused on both longer-term and, sometimes, more local concerns, and typically consist of people who want to expand the tent and grow the coalition.
In some ways, Trump changed all of that. While not completely severing the relationship between party and president, Trump largely ignored the party’s needs, both electorally and legislatively. Instead, he focused on building his own movement within the party. That made him a different kind of president.
Trump did help remake the GOP coalition, but he didn’t ultimately grow it. While Republicans won more voters of color than at the party’s low point in the Barack Obama years, they still cast their ballots in large numbers for Democrats. The shift by white working-class voters to the GOP sped up under Trump, though that was offset by more middle- and upper-class white voters swinging to the Democrats. Trump has made it far more difficult for Republicans to win in the suburbs.
…The 2022 elections offered some of the strongest evidence that Trump was a movement president rather than a party leader. His inclination to back a MAGA foot soldier who embraces his grievances and election lies reveals his priorities; he’s more intent on channeling the energies of his far-right base than appealing to swing voters or even party regulars.
…Now as he embarks on a third presidential bid, Trump is focused on grievance, not policy. His main vow is to impose vengeance on his— and by extension the MAGA movement’s— enemies. This approach violates much of what political scientists have come to expect from politicians: that they’ll seek to build broad coalitions in pursuit of electoral advantage. Turning away from that strategy is one of the most striking features of Trump-style Republicanism.
Movements, like parties, have historically had a complicated relationship with presidents. They can be useful sources of political support and energy. Republicans, in particular, have relied on the groups associated with the Christian conservative movement for four decades. At the same time, politicians sometimes prefer to keep a safe distance from the most extreme elements of a social movement. Reagan avoided directly addressing the March for Life in person in 1981, at the advice of aides who were concerned that too much emphasis on social issues would be divisive. On the left, politicians have endeavored to ally with environmentalists and civil rights activists without endorsing all of their tactics and messages.
More than other Republican politicians, Trump has encouraged relationships with violent far-right forces like the Proud Boys (“Stand back and stand by”), alongside more traditional activists like evangelicals and gun owners. Some of these groups are important to the Republican Party, providing them with campaign resources, communicating the party message and rallying the faithful— sometimes literally. But they’re not the party, exactly. And this helps to explain why Trump’s influence in the GOP has been so strong, yet has consistently put elected leaders in the position of having to defend and explain things they don’t want to defend and explain, from Charlottesville to Jan. 6.
I love this new ad Will Rollins just put out. And Ken Calvert (R-CA) is a lot like Donald Trump-- as crooked as they come! Democrats rarely have the guts to put out an ad this tough and to the point.