Republicans think Trump will be a midterm kingmaker. Democrats like me think he may be a spoiler
The post-Labor Day Weekend sprint to the November midterms is officially on. The general election matchups are set and the contours of the election have taken shape. With less than two months to go, one thing is remarkably clear: while former President Donald Trump is not on the ballot, his candidates and policies certainly are.
Not in recent history have we had a president, both as the incumbent and out of office, so willing to engage high-risk, low-reward, competitive political primaries.
As he faces an uncertain future, one would expect that the only former president to have his home raided by the FBI would be trying to win friends and influence enemies. Instead, he has decided to declare war against his own appointees such as FBI Director Chris Wray, former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, former Attorney General Bill Barr, and others—even the architect of his legislative wins and three successful Supreme Court appointments, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Meanwhile, his decision to weigh-in on primary battles certainly tipped the scales among the MAGA base. But among centrist and independent voters, who actually decide general elections, his endorsement in battleground state races seems to be dragging many of them down with precious few weeks left in the midterm cycle.
In November, the whole ballgame is independent voters, a group Trump has struggled with in the past. In 2020, Trump lost these voters by 9 points. Many GOP nominees tripped over themselves to secure Trump’s endorsement — clearly a wise strategy for primary elections. However, you can bet Democrats will effectively tie those challengers to the unpopular former president.
Many forget that Republicans lost two senate seats in the 2016 election even though Donald Trump swept surprisingly into office. In 2018, Republicans netted two seats, but lost seats in the key swing states of Arizona and Nevada (winning back seats in solid-red Montana, Indiana, Missouri, and trending-red Florida). And with Trump on the ballot in 2020, Democrats won the presidency and took back the Senate, winning Arizona, Colorado, and two seats in Georgia. The only upper-chamber seat to flip to Republicans that year: ruby-red Alabama.
2022 was supposed to be the year the GOP would easily win back control from a 50-50 senate but, with just two months to go, Republican prospects are dimming for the Party shaped in Donald Trump’s image.
His primary-endorsed Senate candidates in Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are vastly underperforming their Democratic rivals in both polling and fundraising. In fact, many of these races would not even be competitive for my Party had Trump not given his endorsement.
That is not to say that all Trump-endorsed candidates will fail this November. The former president often makes it a habit of endorsing candidates who are already going to win in the Fall, and then claims credit for their success. Candidates like State Rep. Russell Fry in South Carolina, who defeated incumbent Rep. Tom Rice in a Republican primary, and Harriett Hageman, who beat Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming, will certainly be joining the 118th Congress.
Ultimately, even as history tells us that the party in the White House should lose seats this year, candidates matter. Democrats like Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio and Sens. Rafael Warnock and Mark Kelly are running much ahead of their Republican rivals because they are better candidates who know their states far better.
Depending on November’s results, Republicans will have to face a reckoning as a party: will they continue to pledge fealty to Donald Trump and support his hand-picked candidates or will they realize that independent voters matter and that politics is a game of addition, not subtraction. The latter has worked quite well for Republican Governors Asa Hutchinson, Brian Kemp, Phil Scott, Larry Hogan, and Glenn Youngkin. It’s also worked for Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. 2022 will test the veracity of that theory.
There is no question that former President Donald Trump is a GOP primary kingmaker but come November when that supposed Red Wave hits a solid blue wall of Democrats and Independents, he may very well end up this election’s spoiler for the Republicans.