Senate Republicans Can’t Distance Themselves From Trump

All but one voted to acquit the president. Now, they’ll have to go down with him.

Trump’s failing campaign is threatening Republican control of the Senate. Nevertheless, when asked whether the president has exhibited failed leadership in response to the coronavirus, Senator Joni Ernst defended him saying, “I think that the president is stepping forward.”

Apparently that response helped her opponent, Theresa Greenfield, raise over $100,000. It’s worth noting that the most recent Des Moines Register poll showed Greenfield leading Ernst by three points. In a state Trump won by nine points in 2016, that same poll had Biden ahead by one point.

The Senate race in Iowa demonstrates the dilemma facing Republicans all over the country—even in traditionally red states: Do they stick with the president and go down with him, or do they hold him accountable and risk losing the support of the GOP base, which remains loyal to Trump. At this point, they’re obviously picking the former. But according to Gabriel Sherman, they’ve adopted a deadline on that.

Nervous Republicans worried about losing the Senate are now debating when to break from Trump. Trump campaign internal polls show Trump’s level of “strong support” dropping from 21 to 17 points since last week, a person briefed on the numbers said. A source close to Iowa Republican Joni Ernst’s campaign said Ernst advisers are upset that a solid seat is now in play. “Joni’s campaign is pissed. They should not be in a competitive race,” the source said…A Republican strategist close to Mitch McConnell told me that Republicans have Labor Day penciled in as the deadline for Trump to have turned things around. After that, he’s on his own.

If it’s true that they have adopted a deadline, it is hard to imagine why. Do they really think that Trump can turn things around by Labor Day? As I’ve indicated before, that is downright delusional. To emphasize the point, take a look at the latest news about what the president’s campaign is counting on.

Campaign officials have repeatedly said they expect a backlash against the progressive “cancel culture” movement to help the president’s standing with white suburban female voters, who they believe to be frightened by images of chaos in the city streets.

First of all, as Mehdi Hasan writes, “Donald Trump is the king of cancel culture.” But the plan to scare suburban female voters was on full display in the president’s speeches over the weekend.

In a speech at the White House on Saturday evening and an address in front of Mount Rushmore on Friday night, Mr. Trump promoted a version of the “American carnage” vision for the country that he laid out during his inaugural address— updated to include an ominous depiction of the recent protests over racial justice.

In doing so, he signaled even more clearly that he would exploit race and cultural flash points to stoke fear among his base of white supporters in an effort to win re-election. As he has done in the past, he resorted on Friday to exaggerated, apocalyptic language in broadly tarring the nationwide protests against entrenched racism and police brutality, saying that “angry mobs” sought to “unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities” and that those seeking to deface monuments want to “end America.”

Mr. Trump followed up with his remarks on Saturday from the South Lawn of the White House, which sounded more like a campaign rally, and repeated the themes from the previous evening.

“We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children or trample on our freedoms,” Mr. Trump said, claiming that protesters — who have won broad public support, including from corporate America — were “not interested in justice or healing.”

Mr. Trump cast himself as the heir to “American heroes” who defeated Nazis, fascists, communists and terrorists, all but drawing a direct line from such enemies to his domestic critics.

I had simply assumed that this kind of language was meant to fire up his base. But apparently Trump and his campaign staff think that they can frighten white suburban women with that garbage. I suppose that none of us should be surprised that this president thinks he can manipulate women like that. But Sarah Longwell nailed it when she said:

Trump’s campaign fundamentally misunderstands suburban women. They are not frightened. They are disgusted. Disgusted by Trump’s divisive behavior. They’re not looking for Trump to protect them from the chaos. They blame Trump for the chaos.

Apparently Ernst and the rest of the Republican majority in the Senate want to wait until Labor Day to see if this kind of strategy works. If so, they’ll go down with the president. They had their moment of truth at the impeachment trial. But after a day of conspiracy theories about Joe Biden from Trump’s defense team, here’s the gleeful response from Ernst.

Instead of counting on the likes of Trump and Giuliani to bring down Joe Biden, Ernst could have listened to Representative Adam Schiff.

But they acquitted Donald Trump and, in the process, sealed their fate to his. No artificial deadline on Labor Day is going to change that.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.