GOP Candidates Will Get More Extreme as We Head Into the Midterms

I want to go back to a quote from the New York Times that I suggested might be the biggest takeaway from the special election in Ohio yesterday.

In both Franklin County, which includes Columbus, and Delaware County, the fast-growing suburb just north of Ohio’s capital, 42 percent of voters turned out. But in the five more lightly populated counties that round out the district, turnout ranged from 27 to 32 percent.

This is an ominous sign for Republicans: The highest-income and best-educated elements of the electorate — those deeply uneasy with President Trump — are showing the most interest in voting. Defending a few dozen districts that are either more heavily urban or feature a similar demographic mix as Ohio’s 12th District, Republicans will need to find a way to win back suburbanites or better galvanize rural voters.

If you were a Republican running in a district that featured demographics similar to Ohio’s 12th, which option would you choose: try to win back suburbanites or galvanize rural voters? That’s not just a hypothetical question. It is the one facing many Republicans, like Rep. Pete Sessions in Texas’ 32nd district.

If Republicans listen to their president and follow the example of their colleagues who have faced tough races over the last two years, it’s clear that galvanizing the base of rural voters is what they’ll choose. The perfect example of that was Republican Ed Gillespie, who went on to lose to Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial election. As the race progressed, the former chair of the DNC started running ads accusing his opponent of unleashing the MS-13 gang and child predators on Virginia families. That might have appealed to the Republican base, but it further alienated white college-educated suburban voters. Here’s how John Harwood explained the dynamics:

That is exactly what I see from the reports that Sen. Ted Cruz has invited Donald Trump to Texas to campaign for him. As Martin has been suggesting, the race between Cruz and Beto O’Rourke has become a toss-up. Obviously, Cruz has assessed that he might be in trouble if Republican base voters aren’t fired up to turn out in November. What better way to do that than to bring in the guy who once accused his father of being involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? As a result, we’ll soon be seeing campaign rallies in Texas where Cruz and Trump share the stage speaking to an audience filled with QAnon conspiracists (just like what happened in Florida recently). Who knows whether  that will help or hurt Ted Cruz, but it will be devastating for Pete Sessions.

If Republican candidates follow the lead of Trump and repeat the pattern established by their colleagues in elections over the last two years, we won’t be hearing much about the economy, but will be subjected to fear-mongering racism, attacks on the media, and conspiracy theories about the “deep state.” Both the president and his supporters have gone off the edge in their extremism, and a lot of Republicans running for office are likely to follow them as their only hope of survival.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.