Republicans Gardner, Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Martha McSally (Ariz.) may be the targets of the main offensive, but Democrats — whose only vulnerable incumbent is Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) — also have their sights on two open Georgia seats, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who possesses the worst home-state approval rating in the Senate. If Republicans nominate anti-immigrant gadfly Kris Kobach in Kansas, or if Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor of Montana, finally agrees to make a Senate run, Democrats can add two more seats to their wish list.
Democrats have a big selection of targets, high donor enthusiasm and a favorable map, but what will the messaging be about the Republicans they want to oust? Collins has already come under fire for her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh:
Others may be vulnerable as well for votes to confirm extreme and/or unqualified judges. However, the main charge against these senators is simple and unarguable: They have enabled Trump every step of the way, putting loyalty to him above the interests of their constituents.
In many cases they affirmatively supported Trump. All except Collins voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including cuts to future Medicaid spending. They all voted for Trump’s tax plan that blew a hole in the budget, overwhelmingly benefited the super-rich and did not deliver on the hype about wages and economic growth.
They rubber-stamped one extreme and/or unqualified executive branch nominee after another, including scandal-plagued and anti-environment Scott Pruitt for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (eventually forced to step down; Collins was the only Republican senator who had opposed his nomination); ethically challenged and census-sabotaging Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary; the dissembling implementer of the family separation policy at the border, Kirstjen Nielsen, for secretary of homeland security; and Attorney General William P. Barr, who has acted as President Trump’s lawyer, not the country’s. Republican senators apparently have sacrificed their independent judgment for the sake of mollifying an unfit president who does not bother to vet his own nominees.
Equally, if not more, troubling has been their complete passivity in the face of Trump’s conduct and ruinous policy decisions. They’ve refused to weigh in on the Ukraine scandal, remained largely mute after the report by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, refused to take back trade authority to spare businesses and farmers from tariffs, acceded to Trump’s dismantling of environmental regulations, shrugged over self-dealing and probable violation of the emoluments clause, declined to call him out for attacks on democratic institutions (including the First Amendment), and done nothing to halt his likely unconstitutional use of “acting” secretaries.
Among the GOP senators being targeted by Democrats, with the exception of Collins all refused to override a veto of a resolution challenging Trump’s “national emergency” declaration and raid on Pentagon funds to pay for his useless wall. Tillis humiliated himself by writing a Post op-ed criticizing Trump’s action, and then reversing course when the veto vote was taken.
Finally, the Senate, thanks to the Republicans’ chosen leader and self-described “grim reaper” McConnell, has refused to take action on popular legislation that has passed the House, such as gun background checks, prescription drug cost controls, voting reform, net neutrality, legalization for “dreamers” and the Equality Act. Republican senators apparently want to be reelected to do nothing for six more years.
Democrats certainly need a strong presidential nominee to lift down-ballot candidates. However, when it comes to the current crop of GOP senators, who have been among the most spineless and least productive in history, Democrats should be able to convince plenty of voters not to reward sloth and amorality.