But the speaker lineup the Trump campaign announced for this week’s Republican National Convention underscores the fractures among the party’s elected officials, especially as it faces the possibility that it won’t have Trump leading them this time next year and that tying themselves to him could also cost them their jobs.
Not speaking for the second time at a convention nominating Trump is the only living past Republican president, George W. Bush — a break from tradition. (All three past Democratic presidents offered remarks at that party’s convention last week.)
We also won’t see a ton of Republican senators and House lawmakers who are running for reelection in potentially competitive races. Republican senators running for reelection from swing states for both the White House and the Senate — such as Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Maine — won’t be making an appearance to speak on behalf of Trump. A number of them have started running ads that don’t mention Trump.
There could be more who join to the list of speakers we know so far, but without substantial additions to the roster, it shows a drastic difference from the past three and a half years. These senators have done their best to hug Trump and his policies. They are well aware that the president’s base is particularly loyal to Trump — and particularly unforgiving to those who cross him.
But at the same time, many of these lawmakers are facing a difficult political reality in which Trump’s popularity is sinking in their states, largely because of concerns about how the president and his administration have failed to get the novel coronavirus pandemic under control. Voters also give the president poor marks on his handling of racial relations, which is unhelpful to senators representing increasingly diverse suburbs, especially in Southern states.
The conclusion is not to speak prominently at the president’s convention, which would almost certainly make it to their Democratic challengers’ TV ads. The one exception to this is Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in Iowa, who is in Republican leadership and facing a tough reelection but has apparently calculated that speaking will help her.
Normally these senators could use campaigning as an excuse for not being able to make it to the convention. But since it’s a convention where video feeds will be the norm, that excuse doesn’t work.
And it makes the obvious more obvious: Trump is a drag for many if not most Republican candidates, except in the reddest states.
“It’s a concession to reality when an incumbent president doesn’t have a strong reelect number,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, who used to work at the Republican National Committee. “You don’t have a lot of people in tough races flocking to be seen with him.”
It’s not just politicians swing states that are affected by Trump’s unpopularity right now. Sen. Steve Daines is running for reelection in Montana, a state that Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016. Yet he’s faced with a tough reelection battle, too, in large part because of Trump. He won’t be speaking at the convention either. (In 2016, Daines said he’d be fly-fishing during the convention, one of many in the Republican establishment to skip out on seeing Trump nominated.)
Republicans are now seriously contemplating a future without Trump, so it’s also instructive to see how many might be thinking about a 2024 run and decided to appear at the convention.
Potential future presidential candidates speaking this week for Trump include Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s sons, and, of course, Vice President Pence.
But we won’t see other Republican senators like Ted Cruz (Tex.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) at the convention. The highest-ranking GOP woman in the House, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), could be on a potential 2024 list, and she doesn’t have a planned appearance.
Cheney, who through her father has ties to the Republican Party of yesteryear, was recently bashed by Trump-supporting lawmakers for apparently not supporting the president enough. It put a spotlight on how much Republicans are wrestling with their party’s future after Trump. If he loses, was he a four-year blip pushing the party in a more nationalistic direction? Or is Trumpism what GOP voters want?
Again, Republican wariness with Trump is nothing new. But the convention forces what Republicans would prefer to remain in the shadows out into the light. There is a real rift in the party about whether and how much to support the president, especially as polls show he could lose in November.
Oh, and on the first day of the Republicans’ convention, Fox News reported that Flake and more than two dozen former Republican members of Congress will be part of a “Republicans for Biden” campaign.