Donald Trump is dominating the news cycle again, and there are countless angles to take or critique. I want to discuss one that I don’t think is getting much consideration. There is a lot of speculation about a third-party or independent presidential run by The Donald if he fails in his bid to win the Republican nomination. The Republicans, probably correctly, fear that Trump would pull a lot of their voters into his column and doom their nominee to oblivion. As a result, they’ve been very reluctant until approximately yesterday to get too rough with Trump, fearing that he’ll storm off in a petulant rage and bring his populist support with him.

Okay. I think it’s an almost unassailable argument that a three-way presidential race between a Democrat, a Republican, and Trump would split the right more than the left. But what about the impact on down-ticket races? Would having Donald in the race (but not as the Republican nominee) help or hurt Republicans running for Congress?

I think it would help them by boosting turnout on the right.

The average Trump voter is probably disgusted with Congress and with both parties. They don’t want to vote for just another politician. But if you force them to choose between a Democratic and Republican candidate for the Senate or for the House, most of them will probably go for the Republican.

Could be that a lot of Trump voters would show up and mark the ballot for Trump, leave the rest of the thing blank, and go home. But a lot of them will fill out the whole thing, and from the Democratic Party’s perspective, they’d rather those folks not go the polls at all.

Keep this in mind while reading this next bit:

“Nothing will impact our majority more than who we nominate for president,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who chaired the NRCC in 2005 and 2006. “The correlation between presidential votes and House votes is higher today than it’s ever been in American history, so we all have a vested interest in advancing the strongest nominee that we can.”

He said, “I think it’s very hard to put a great deal of distance between yourself and your presidential nominee in either a winning or losing year. … At the end of the day, you have to recognize the presidential nominee of both parties has the biggest megaphone out there other than the president himself.”

Implied here is the idea that Trump would not be a good nominee for the Republican Party. This is fleshed out a little more here:

Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, who represents a swing district that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, said Trump’s comments “have to be condemned.”

“Are these comments helping us as a party? No,” Dent said. “Running political campaigns and winning elections is an exercise in addition, not subtraction. … When comments are made that are so divisive that alienate women, Hispanics, the disabled, Muslims — it just simply limits your ability to win. It’s that simple.”

And here:

Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the NRCC’s deputy chairman in charge of helping reelect embattled GOP incumbents, was more blunt.

“It would be devastating to our attempts to grow our majority and would cost us seats,” Stivers said in an interview. Trump “would cost us seats. There are people that couldn’t win if he was our nominee.”

I don’t disagree with these gentlemen or their analysis, but I think it only applies to them if Trump is running as a Republican in a two-way race. If Trump is running as an independent in a three-way race, I believe more right-leaning voters will turn out to vote. And that ought to help down-ticket Republicans.

So, what might doom their presidential candidate could well be what limits their losses in the congressional races. If you’re in charge of the NRCC or NRSC, you’ll probably wind up getting a better report card with Trump in the race as an independent than with him as either the nominee or sitting the whole thing out because he’s been defeated in the primaries and chosen not to run as an independent.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at