As we’ve seen, the Trump administration’s vetting process for cabinet positions is either nonexistent or a joke. But the president has come up with a process for vetting Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. Kevin Robillard reports that he is asking some of them to answer these eight questions:
1. “Do you support or oppose President Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court?”
2. “Do you support or oppose President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement?”
3. “Do you support or oppose President Trump’s Executive Order to suspend the issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of countries of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen?”
4. “Do you support or oppose the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate within the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017?”
5. “Do you support or oppose the President’s intention to withhold foreign security assistance to Pakistan?”
6. “Do you support or oppose President Trump’s Infrastructure Initiative, which calls for $200 billion in Federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with partners at the State, local, Tribal, and private level?”
7. “On January 30, 2018, President Trump released a framework with the following four proposals to reform our immigration system: 1. Establish a $25 billion trust fund for the border wall system, ports of entry and exit, and northern border improvements 2. Promote nuclear family migration by allowing immigration sponsorships of spouses and minor children only 3. End the visa lottery program 4. Provide legal status for DACA recipients and certain other DACA-eligible illegal immigrants. Do you support or oppose President Trump’s framework for immigration reform?”
8. “Do you support or oppose President Trump’s imposition of 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum imports?”
On the surface, that is not an unreasonable approach. If a candidate wants the president’s endorsement, its not a bad idea to expect them to answer some questions. This process veers from what presidents have historically done, which has typically been to endorse incumbents and otherwise delay backing anyone until a candidate has been chosen in the primaries. This effort has been designed to guide Trump’s backing of Republicans in the primaries (and perhaps beyond), which is where he could wind up hurting his own party.
The president isn’t asking candidates whether or not they support items in the Republican platform. Of the eight questions in this survey, five of them are divisive within the party (numbers 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8). For example, if a Republican is running in a district where voters support free trade (i.e., rural farming communities), they might have to sacrifice the endorsement of their party’s leader. There is also the problem that very few candidates will agree with all of the items. For example, many who support his attempt to change our legal immigration system oppose giving legal status to DACA recipients. Some of the president’s most ardent congressional supporters who back him on trade and immigration, don’t like his infrastructure plan.
What is clear from this list is that Trump wants loyalty to his agenda as a litmus test for endorsement. That is certainly his right to demand. But there is a reason previous presidents have avoided this kind of thing. It tends to divide the party and shrink their numbers in Congress.