Friday night will probably go down in GOP lore as the worst day for the party since Barry Goldwater’s nomination in 1964. That night, it was revealed in a taped interview in 2005 Donald Trump admitted to sexually harassing women. The result was pure panic in GOP circles.
Republicans scrambled to disavow Trump including Senate candidate Joe Heck (NV) and Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), John McCain (AZ), Rob Portman (OH) and Pat Toomey (PA). House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, also disavowed his words. The RNC temporarily halted its Joint Victory Project (if only for a day).
It’s understandable that endangered Republican Senators and candidates would distance themselves from Trump even as they risk a backlash from his supporters. It is also understandable that Speaker Ryan and Congressional leadership would worry about their members. A House Speaker’s job is to protect his/her party members (all of them).
But the media fascination with the House being in play is ridiculous. Just two days ago the media thought the GOP would easily retain the House. Now, suddenly, without any polling data to speak of, the narrative is becoming the GOP majority is in jeopardy. Why?
There seem to be three reasons why this belief has popped up. The first is obvious and the most plausible; to sink Republicans. His poll numbers are taking a dive. Short of Iowa, Trump does not lead in a single swing state’s polling average according to RCP. It is possible this could be temporary but it has to worry Congressional Republicans running in swing or left leaning districts.
There is ample evidence to show many Republicans are running ahead of Trump but they can only run so far ahead. At some point a Trump disaster would drag them down.
The second reason this narrative has taken hold is because Trump runs horribly in the very districts the GOP needs to hold to maintain its majority. I am speaking of the Denver, Philly, Virginia, Florida suburbs and some urban/suburban districts. For the most part these members appear to be holding their own but, again, a Trump disaster might drag them down.
The last reason hinges on turnout. Basically, conservative evangelicals and suburbanites will stay home and not just hand Clinton not just the Senate but the House as well. It is certainly plausible but unlikely. Consider the 2006, 2008, and 2012 elections.
In 2006 and 2008 Republicans were wiped out at all levels. But, in both cases, the issue never was that Republicans did not turn out. Indeed, in 2006, Independents turned against the GOP and in 2008 Democratic turnout simply swamped the GOP. The same phenomenon was at play in 2012 when the party lost some marginal districts. It is far more true that Democratic success and failure in elections depends on turnout (especially in midterms).
Still, Republicans would be well-served to think about their repudiation of Trump. It might help them with Independents and suburban voters but it might cost them among blue-collar men (the core of their electoral success this cycle). Trump has a loyal base of supporters that will turn out and Senate and Congressional Republicans need their votes as well.
It is probably why Paul Ryan, in a conference call with members Monday, told his Caucus to do what is best for their electoral fortunes. In some places it makes sense to cut bait with Trump. But, in other areas, Trump has strong appeal to key GOP constituencies. Some members might benefit from embracing Trump and others unendorsing him.
Either way, the House is not in play. Democrats have simply blown too many recruiting chances and some of their most appealing districts have begun to slip away (Iowa, Florida, Maine). There is also little evidence a wave is building in any form (in 2014 it was obvious months in advance Dem turnout might drop precipitously). It fits a narrative that Trump is a disaster for the party to argue he might cost the GOP the House. But, in reality, the GOP remains on target to lose 10-15 districts this cycle but maintain a solid lock on Congress (with its Tea party wing marginalized after significant losses in primaries this summer).