The Republican nightmare scenario

Who knows what can happen next in the four weeks before the election, but with a seeming Republican Civil War going on, there’s real potential for a Republican nightmare scenario.  Paul Waldman:

The more Trump slides in the polls and the more he seems headed for defeat, the more Republicans will have an incentive to jump ship in an attempt to save their own skins. It starts with those in districts and states that lean Democratic or are closely divided; if he drops a few more points, members from districts that lean Republican but not too strongly will suddenly see the value in distancing themselves from him.

But either way they turn, there’s danger. After Ryan disinvited Trump from what was supposed to be a unity rally over the weekend, he found himself heartily booed by angry Trump supporters. Other Republicans could face the same thing. While Trump pushes away wavering moderate Republicans, his strategy seems designed only to solidify his support among those who already love him, and they won’t take kindly to quisling Republicans who turn on their nominee just because he does a little thing like admit to a pattern of sexual assault…

But before we get to that point, Trump and Republicans in Congress could be posing a new danger to each other the worse their relationship gets. As my friend the political scientist Thomas Schaller observes, this infighting could produce a two-way roll-off effect that we haven’t seen before. Roll-off is when some people vote for president, but don’t bother voting for other offices; it happens to a degree in every election, usually because some voters just aren’t interested in the other races or don’t know who to vote for. But this year, the anger of Trump supporters “raises the prospect that some of these Trump voters will show up on election day, vote Trump, and spite some or all downballot Republican candidates by skipping these contests. This would magnify the normal roll-off effect,” he says. At the same time, “a significant number of reliable Republican voters may skip the presidential [ballot] but vote for some or all of the remaining races.” The result could be “lost votes for Trump at the presidential level and lost votes at the sub-presidential level for all other Republicans. That is the disaster scenario for the GOP.” [emphasis mine]

Sure thing? No (what is in this election), but certainly a real possibility.  And, in many ways, Republican politicians seem caught in a Catch-22.  Greg Sargent:

The Post report notes that new polling conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has found that tying the generic House Republican candidate to Trump hurts him or her, but crucially, the generic House GOP candidate is also hurt if respondents are told that he or she has recently withdrawnsupport for Trump:

While a generic ballot tests shows a Democrat up by 7 points over any Republican lawmaker, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s poll — conducted nationwide by the Global Strategy Group — shows the Democratic candidate has a 12-point edge if the Republican recently withdrew their support from Trump. If a Republican lawmaker continues to support Trump, the private polling shows they are at a similar 12-point deficit….

The survey showed than 61 percent of voters said Republicans who decided to withdraw support for Trump over the past few days “lack character and integrity” compared to 39 percent who said those Republicans “are showing character and integrity for standing up to Donald Trump.”

Dem operatives have concluded that

Republicans are now stuck in the impossible position of either embracing their party’s presidential nominee and alienating swing voters critical to maintaining their hold on Congress or rejecting him and angering their base.

As you can see, the polling also suggests cutting Trump loose, in addition to angering the base, may not earn a GOP lawmaker much credit from swing voters. Now, you should always treat internal polls with suspicion. But it’s worth noting that Global Strategy Group is a highly rated pollster, and also that yesterday’s NBC/WSJ poll found a similar seven point advantage for Democrats in the generic ballot match-up…

Of course, now Republicans are backed into a corner, by the sex tape revelations. And, having stood by him despite months of his racism, hate speech, and pathological abusiveness, it’s possible they may not get much benefit from severing themselves from him at the last minute…

But still, it does appear that many GOP lawmakers in swing districts might be ensnared in something of a Trump Trap…

And so, this Trump Trap was created in part by GOP lawmakers’ willingness to stick by him even as he sank deeper into madness and depravity. The swing voters in these relatively-Obama-friendly districts may now see Trump as being more toxic than ever, perhaps rendering Dem efforts to tie them to him more potent. Meanwhile, the very fact that they stuck by him for so long could make it harder for them to evade such attacks.

But at the same time, the Trump voters these lawmakers also need are perhaps growing angrier as the clock ticks down and victory seems to be slipping away. They may not look kindly on GOP lawmakers who are perceived to be deserting him and in so doing making a Trump loss more likely. And Trump is going to do all he can to feed that rage on his way down.

So, would not want to be a Republican politician in the least bit unsafe seat right now.  Not that I have any sympathy for them.  They brought this open themselves.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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