The latest Morning Consult poll suggests that GOP senators, especially those vulnerable in 2020, who are bent on accommodating President Trump and his noxious nominees, policy stances and behavior are paying a political price.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has always pitched herself as a pro-choice moderate, has nosedived in the polls since voting to pass Trump’s tax plan and to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. From a 67 percent/27 percent favorable/unfavorable rating in the first quarter of 2017, she has sunk to 52 percent/39 percent. She’s 25 net points underwater with Democrats. She might (or might not) have staved off a primary challenge, but she’s setting herself up for her first competitive Senate race since 1996, with an army of pro-choice voters looking to knock her out of the Senate. For a pro-life moderate in a purplish-blue state, sticking by Trump has not worked to her advantage.
As NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue tells me, Collins’s "slide in popularity is a problem of her own making.” She says, “Instead of [using] the Kavanaugh moment to cap a career of commitment to women, she chose to cover for a corrupt president, a breach of the trust of voters who won’t forget in 2020.”
Then there is Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who won in 2014 by presenting himself as an advocate for women (e.g. stressing access to over-the-counter contraception). In 2017, he started with a 49/30 favorable margin. Now he is at 35/35. If a favorable rating below 50 percent is warning sign for an incumbent, Gardner already has a three-alarm fire on his hands. Provided Democrats run a minimally successful presidential race, he’s very likely political toast. As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver puts it, “Ideologically-speaking, Gardner has occupied the middle lane of his party, which is good for a Republican running in a state that leans blue. But in the Senate, Gardner has voted in line with President Trump’s position more often than Colorado’s 2016 presidential result would suggest. This could be a problem for him in 2020, considering Gardner’s narrow victory in 2014 and that the Democratic nominee for president has won Colorado three times in a row.” Maybe it would have been better to have put more distance between himself and Trump.
Go down the list of 2020 GOP incumbents on the ballot, and you see a similar pattern. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has slid from a 39/30 approval/disapproval split to 34/33; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tumbled from 44/47 to 36/50; and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) fell from 47/37 to 40/37. These politicians’ Trump sycophancy could well cost them their seats.
Even more striking is that all these Republicans will oppose any effort to impeach Trump (leaving them with a President Pence) and will doggedly support him for reelection, when they instead could have any other Republican — one whose tax plan was not a bust, who didn’t engage in obstructionist behavior and continue to lie about it, who isn’t slavishly devoted to tyrants and who evidences again and again that he is unfit for the job. No, instead of any other Republican, they want to run with Trump at the top of the ticket. Go figure.
Craven Republicans have avoided stepping out of line for fear of an irate tweet, a mean nickname or a GOP primary opponent. For all their moral and political irresponsibility, their dereliction of duty and their intellectual hypocrisy, have they bought themselves an easy reelection race? No. They tried trading their honor for political security and now have neither.