“The president is, as you know — you’ve seen his numbers among the Republican base — it’s very strong. It’s more than strong, it’s tribal in nature. People who tell me, who are out on trail, say, look, people don’t ask about issues anymore. They don’t care about issues. They want to know if you’re with Trump or not.”
— Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
A new Public Policy Polling survey in Tennessee finds former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) with a slight edge over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in the U.S. Senate race, 46% to 41%, with 13% still undecided.
Maybe these two things are consistent, but if they are, then is surely means that Trump’s popularity (or base) isn’t easily transferable to Republican candidates running for office this fall. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is a fairly Trumpy candidate, but she’s trailing the Democrat. And, while Phil Bredesen was a popular two-term governor who served from 2003 to 2011, he’s been out of office for a while and his state has continued to move far to the right. I can remember when people were surprised that Al Gore couldn’t win his home state in 2000, and also when Bill Clinton won it twice, in 1992 and 1996. In 2016, Trump carried the state 61 percent to 35 percent. If what the Republicans in Tennessee really want is someone to serve in the Senate who will do the president’s bidding, then Blackburn should be well ahead in this poll.
Now, it could be that Bredensen is getting a boost out of his better name recognition, but being well known as a Democrat shouldn’t really be that helpful.
We don’t have that many data points to examine, but the Democrats have been winning some races recently in strong Trump territory, and it could be that Bob Corker is not getting the full picture of what’s going on in the country or in his home state. It wouldn’t be that surprising. In the era of Trump, it seems like it’s easy to misinterpret data and draw bad conclusions from worn out assumptions. It happened to Hillary Clinton when she didn’t anticipate the degree of her collapse in rural areas and small towns. It could be happening again, but this time it is Republicans who are overestimating the degree to which their base of support is in thrall to Donald Trump.
I think Trump’s base is unique. First of all, it’s made up of a lot of Democrats who never have supported giant tax cuts for rich people and corporations. Secondly, insofar as rank-and-file longtime Republicans have transferred their allegiance to Trump, that group is shrinking as soft Republicans flee a sinking ship.
It could be that being anti-Trump is still dangerous or even suicidal in a Republican primary, but I think being pro-Trump is probably the surest way to blow your chance at winning a safe Senate seat in places like Tennessee, Alabama, or even Mississippi.