Since Republicans took control of the United States Senate following the 2014 elections, their hold has been tenuous. While they didn’t lose the Senate in 2016 as was widely predicted, they did slip to having just 51 senators in 2017. Response to Democratic mistreatment of Brett Kavanaugh and his confirmation battle helped Republicans pick up a few seats in 2018. They currently have 53 members in their caucus and face another tough election year.
“The sense is that, no matter what else happens, we’ve got to hold the Senate majority. And it’s not a given. There’s just a broad front to defend, and it’s going to take a lot of resources and a lot of hard work to do it,” Steven Law of Senate Leadership Fund told Politico reporter James Arkin in a recent story.
If Trump loses, Democrats would almost certainly be in control of the Senate. It is past time — several years past time, that is — for Republican leaders to understand that their fate rises and falls with Trump’s success.
Guy Benson correctly noted that it would be crazy to assume the situation is safe for Republicans.
Politico’s Arkin says that Democrats’ “path to majority” is through Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, with money and energy also being invested in Iowa, Montana, and Kansas.
The conventional wisdom among the still sizable group of Trump-skeptical establishment Republicans in Washington is that Republicans on the ballot can somehow separate their fate from that of Trump in 2020. Some high-level Republicans have said on background that they hope to create a path to a split ticket, where anti-Trump suburban voters vote for the Republican Senate candidate while voting for Joe Biden and his running mate. They think they have a clever solution to the problem posed by having a president popular with Republican voters and opposed by the media and others.
They should realize, though, that if Trump loses reelection, that would mean that the entire GOP ticket was suffering mightily. Odds are almost certain that would mean the Senate elections in Arizona and Colorado went to the Democratic contenders. North Carolina and Sen. Tom Tillis would be next, and almost certainly gone to Democrats. They would need only one more and the odds of picking up a seat in Maine, Montana, Georgia or Iowa would be very high in an election year where Trump had lost.
The situation is very similar to what happened in 2016. Some Republican operatives were extremely confident Trump would lose and encouraged candidates to publicly oppose him. If Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Joe Heck hadn’t listened to this advice, they may have kept and won their seats. Heck’s renunciation of Trump in the closing days of his Nevada race for a Senate seat sealed his fate. Compare them to Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Todd Young of Indiana. Blunt eked out a win in a state Trump won easily and Young trounced his opponent in Indiana. And these results occurred before Trump became an incredibly popular president among Republican voters.
Had Sen. Ron Johnson followed Kelly Ayotte’s path, he probably would not have won.
The best way for the GOP to save the Senate is for Trump to win re-election. If Trump wins, it means that North Carolina has gone well. The Georgia Senate seat will not be going to Democrats if Trump wins. The Iowa Senate seat will not be going to Democrats if Trump wins. Even Maine and Montana are likely to be won by their Republican contenders if Trump wins.
It’s the best way for Sens. Martha McSally and Cory Gardner to have a shot in their tough races. And it might even put Gary Peters in play in Michigan.
In the conventional wisdom bubble, if you think Trump might lose, prepare to lose the Senate. If you think Trump is a huge prohibitive favorite, then you likely think the Senate is safe. But if Trump’s odds are 50-50, control of the Senate is 50-50. And those who want GOP senators to keep control should be hoping for Trump to do the best he can.
What GOP Senators should have learned in 2018 is that they’re stronger when they work together. That’s how they picked up a seat in Missouri and Indiana and carried Florida even as they lost 40 seats in the House.