National GOP has case of ‘separation anxiety’
by RUSS STEWART
Politicians are not masochists. They want elections, and especially their re-election, to be as pain free as possible.
For Republicans, particularly Washington insiders and run-of-the-mill conservatives who are seeking congressional office this year, Donald Trump ranks somewhere between multiple root canals and inoperable cancer. Those on the ballot on Nov. 8 are suffering serious "separation anxiety."
Outside of lopsidedly and historically Republican states and districts, the candidates’ problems are threefold: How do I separate myself from Trump? How far is that separation? Is it even worth trying?
For Trump, there can be no equivocating or prevaricating. Whether a politician or a voter, you’re either for him or against him, entranced or repulsed. The electorate is so sliced, so fluid and so unpredictable that being a windsock is not feasible. A Republican politician cannot be both "sort of" for Trump and "sort of" against Trump and have any credibility.
The Republicans control the U.S. Senate 54-46 and the U.S. House 247-188, and the Democrats control the presidency. The Republicans wanted this election to be a referendum on the "failed" policies of the Obama-Clinton Administration, much as the 2008 election was a repudiation of Bush-Cheney, but Hillary Clinton and her handlers have deftly turned the election into a "choice" between herself and Trump, a much more polarizing figure. By so doing, Clinton locks up most, if not all, of Bernie Sander’s leftist, anti-establishment, anti-status quo voters while peeling away some disgruntled urban Republicans and grabbing the bulk of independent voters and Baby Boomer women of her generation.
The Republicans clearly and painfully understand that presidential elections have become atypical. As recently as a generation ago, a voter might decide to support a Republican for president and a Democrat for Congress or vice versa, in order to have some "balance" in the federal government. Not any more. Partisanship rules. Anyone who votes for Clinton is not going to vote for any Republican anywhere on the ballot, but 5 to 10 percent of the Trump voters, who are not necessarily Republicans and who probably are past non-voters, may just vote for Trump — and nobody else. That would be disastrous for the Republicans.
Presidential choices used to be between fairly bland candidates, neither of whom were well hated. Not this year. Elections are won by whoever best focuses people’s resentments or stokes their latent hostilities. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal thrived by fomenting economic warfare, pitting the working class whites and the blacks against the "rich" Republicans, the Wall Street elite. Trump is attempting to thrive by fomenting cultural warfare, pitting working class whites and rural voters against the condescending liberal cultural elites and the ever-more demanding minorities. Trump’s premise is that there is too much crime, too much debt, too much spending, too much terrorism, too much "Obamacare" and too much socialism.
This election will be the onset of a political realignment. The Clinton wing and the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party have irreconcilable differences, as do the Trump wing and the congressional Republicans. The factions are:
Sanders Democrats. Howard Dean famously called his brethren the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party," and that was in 2004, after the Clinton makeover. These liberals, who include the debt-burdened Millennials, want income redistribution, mostly to themselves, with higher taxes on "the wealthy" and corporations. Whether they vote for Clinton is problematic. Few will vote Republican. More likely, 10 to 15 percent just won’t vote.
Clinton Democrats. The Clintons want power, they have no ideology, and they also want income redistribution, again to themselves and their foundation, but they will give the "the wealthy" a break, for a price. In this campaign that price is $1 billion, which is what they will raise to win. At some point before 2020, "business as usual" will fracture the Democratic coalition. Clinton Democrats, meaning the rich white elite, despise Trump and want a Clinton-friendly Congress.
Minorities. Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns spurred a huge black turnout, with blacks voting in greater proportions than whites. That will subside, probably by 10 to 15 percent, in November. Obama won 65,907,124-60,931,731 in 2012, with about 10 million minority votes. Blacks will vote 90 percent Democratic, and urban Hispanics about 65 to 70 percent; surprisingly, in states like Texas and Arizona, rural Hispanics are less Democratic.
Women. This is Clinton’s firewall. The gender vote is back. Trump is every feminist’s nightmare — loud, belligerent, militaristic, arrogant. What Clinton loses among blacks she recovers among women.
"Trump Nation." To be sure, Trump will get 90 percent of the 2012 Romney vote, but that still knocks 6 million votes off his base. At least 12 million registered voters didn’t vote in 2012, and there are another 12 million who could register. The "Trump Nation" admires his self-assurance and optimism. They don’t admire the meek and mousy congressional Republicans, who abhor mortal combat with Obama. To win, Trump must draw 10 to 15 million prior non-voters to the polls.
Traditional Republicans. The national debt is $19 trillion, calamity is everywhere, and Trump is self-destructing. There’s nobody espousing traditional Republican "values." Why vote, unless you own a gun. Then you vote for every Republican you can find.
Evangelicals. Abortion? Gay marriage? School prayer? That’s just so yesterday. No Republican is addressing those issues. Why vote?
In 2010, in a backlash against Obama and "Obamacare," Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida won Democratic Senate seats. Those senators are up for re-election this year, and they face serious difficulty in a higher-turnout presidential year. Here’s a look at some interesting Senate contests:
Arizona: Vietnam War naval aviator and prisoner of war John McCain, who was vanquished by Obama in 2008, losing his Senate seat? It could happen. Trump did McCain a big favor by disparaging his military record, but the 80-year-old senator, who has been in office since 1986, personifies the kind of politician reviled by the "Trump Nation." Although he is an icon, there is a feeling that McCain’s been around too long, and he has yet to crack 40 percent in the polls. McCain is struggling to find the right degree of separation.
With a 30 percent Hispanic population, Arizona is less and less Republican. Romney won 1,233,654-1,025,232 in 2012, and McCain won 1,230,111-1,034,707 in 2008, but the last time McCain was on the ballot, in 2010, he won impressively, 1,005,615-592,011. His Democratic foe is Ann Kirkpatrick, an obscure congresswoman, but a perfect storm — meaning anti-McCain Trump voters and Clinton-Kirkpatrick female voters — may spell his doom.
Iowa: Like McCain, Waterloo farmer Chuck Grassley is a venerated icon, a senator for 36 years, and heretofore popular for his geniality and non-partisanship, but the 83-year old Grassley also is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which refused to schedule hearings on Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. That created a political firestorm in Iowa, which went for Obama 822,544-730,617 in 2012 and 828,940-682,379 in 2008. Clearly, Iowa has a Democratic base, which is decidedly liberal. Grassley has a real problem.
Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin: They’re the "Three Flukes." Kirk, Toomey and Johnson and all won in 2010 because of low turnout, inept opposition and animosity toward Obama. Kirk and Toomey are opposed by women, and Johnson faces the Democrat he beat.
Kirk, who has disendorsed Trump, is deemed dead on arrival. Obama won Illinois 3,019,512-2,135,216 in 2012, a margin of 884,296 votes. Clinton, also an Illinois native, also will carry Illinois on Nov. 8, but not by much more than 500,000 votes. Kirk was elected in 2010 by 1,778,698-1,719,478, a margin of 59,920 votes. He had 356,518 fewer votes than Romney, and if turnout approaches the 5.1 million of 2012, he’s going to need more than 501,000 Clinton backers to opt for him.
Toomey, like Kirk, has attempted to stake out a moderate position on some issues, such as gun control and environmental protection. Pennsylvania is much less Democratic. Obama won 2,990,274-2,680,434 in 2012, a margin of 309,840 votes, which was half of his 2008 margin of 620,478 votes. Toomey won 2,028,945-1,948,716, a margin of 80,228 votes over a flawed Democrat, Joe Sestak, who beat a party-switching incumbent senator. In the 2016 Democratic primary, Katie McGinty, who got 8 percent of the vote in the 2014 primary for governor but who then went on to work for the new governor, upset Sestak. That changed everything. Voting Clinton-McGinty is different from voting Clinton-Sestak. If Clinton wins the state by more than 200,000 votes, Toomey is a goner.
Ironically, Johnson, who trails in the polls by 8 to 10 percent, is least likely to lose. His opponent is Russ Feingold, a shopworn liberal who was first elected to the Senate in 1992 but who was defeated by Johnson in the anti-Obama 2010 wave by 1,125,999-1,020,958, a margin of 105,041 votes. Feingold’s youthful verve and reformer image had grown stale, and now it is even more so. Johnson is a conservative, and he has made no attempt to move left.
Wisconsin voters are contrarian and paradoxical. Obama won the state 1,620,985-1,407,966 in 2012, and a lesbian was elected senator, but Johnson and Scott Walker won in 2010, and Walker was re-elected governor in 2014. Johnson is ignoring Trump, but he still might win if Clinton’s majority is in the 125,000-vote range.
Florida: This is ground zero for the 2020 presidential election. Rubio performed well in this year’s Republican primaries, exited gracefully, and then reversed his decision to retire. He is favored for a second term in a state won by Obama by just 74,309 votes in 2012.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.