It’s the elephant in the room, (pun intended). While everyone’s talking about Trump and whether he can “make America great again,” there’s something we’re not talking about. And it’s really, really important.
Here’s this week’s reality check. The next president may have the opportunity to name up to four Supreme Court Justices. (After this past June, do we really need to go over how important that is?) The legislative check that balances the president’s appointment power is the requirement to advise and consent given to the Senate. Whoever is elected in November is going to need a Senate that will back up that president’s nominees.
And that could be a problem.
This November, the Republican Party will be defending 24 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 10. Those races will be tough in the general election, and it is very likely that most of those seats will be contended not by Trump-friendly anti-Republicans, but by what his followers like to call the “eGOP”(the “e” is for “establishment”) and “Republicans in Name Only.” Those are the incumbent moderates. Trump followers also don’t like most of the conservatives in elective office. They are known in such circles as “cuckservatives.” (See what they did there? That play on words? They’re clever, those Trumpists.)
Are these the voters that will happily vote a straight Republican Party ticket in the general election? Are there two dozen Senate candidates who will happily stand on a stage with Donald Trump as he wows the crowds with his amazing theories about Muslim immigration and—since he wants to “win” in the general—his softer side on socialized medicine?
If Trump voters who are attracted to him as the political outsider who “has the guts to say what he thinks”—and what he thinks is that the rest of the party is “stupid” or “useless” or “weak”–do not vote for the downballot Republicans, the GOP will not hold the Senate. If people who would not vote for Trump if he paid them decide that the lesser of two evils is still evil, and stay home and don’t vote in those downballot races at all, the GOP will not hold the Senate.
Make no mistake. The Democrats, regardless of who they end up with—Hillary, Bernie, an emergency Warren, or the reanimated corpse of William Jennings Bryan—will move heaven and earth to get to the polling booth and vote a straight Democrat ticket. They always do in Presidential elections. They will unify around someone—and the media, the professors teaching your 18-year old first-time voting kid, and Hollywood will be unified for that person, too. Holding the Republican Senate starts out hard. We don’t need to make it any harder.
Will Trump voters in Alaska sully themselves to retain moderate Lisa Murkowski? It would be hard for homefield hero Sara Palin to campaign for her, considering she is part of “the problem” Palin’s fans are so sick of. (Fun fact: Murkowski’s primary opponent sued Barack Obama in the Alaskan Supreme Court in 2012, claiming he was ineligible for office, being “a citizen of Indonesia, Kenya, or both.”) If the Trump bandwagon is a-comin down the street, it shouldn’t be hard for loyal Alaska Democrats to find someone to file by June 1 to beat her in the August primary.
What about John McCain’s seat in Arizona? Once the standard-bearer for the party, now McCain is a focus of fury, constantly battered by Trump and his followers. Would McCain campaign with Trump? Would Trump campaign with McCain? Putting the two together would no doubt alienate followers of both. But a toxic presidential candidate has no coattails, and a Senate candidate with no Presidential candidate behind him has a hard road back to DC. If Trump voters prevail in the general election, McCain probably won’t.
What about Mark Kirk in Illinois? A first-term Senator with health issues who has cast quite a few votes that owed more to the “IL” in his chyron than the “R,” Kirk is considered likely to lose already. There’s quite an array of Democrats lining up to take a crack at him—including double amputee Iraq war veteran and current Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth.
Could Rand Paul and Donald Trump credibly put their extreme antipathy for each other aside long enough to get Rand re-elected? Or do we lose half of Kentucky to the Democrats? The list goes on. If the general election results in a loss of the Senate for the GOP, I doubt Trump’s people will be that disturbed about it, because they don’t see their mission as connected to the Republican Party. If anything, large numbers in Trump’s voter base see themselves as born to this moment to destroy the Republican Party once and for all.
But here’s the problem with all this independent-minded, pox-on-both-your-houses voting. Like it or not, DC power is a party game. Power flows to the party of the majority, and getting things done is a difficult climb for either party in the Senate, given the need for a two-thirds majority. If the Democrats win the Senate, they won’t hesitate to deny President Trump the Justices he wants. They will control the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Current Ranking Member: Patrick Leahy. Is that what you want, America?)
Consider your ballots well, Republicans. There’s more to this election than just building a wall with a big beautiful door in it.
Image: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/