The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pounced on the GOP presidential nominee’s hot mic incident late Friday night, recognizing that the problem Trump presents House Republicans with has suddenly been exacerbated.
“We have never taken our foot off the gas with tying Republicans to Trump,” DCCC national spokeswoman Meredith Kelly told The Huffington Post Friday night, “and these comments prove why that strategy was right on the money.”
The DCCC’s thinking has always been that Republicans were in a bind with Trump. Support him and you could ostracize swing voters. Resist him and you signal to Republicans that they should stay home. Plus, there’s a whole segment of Trump supporters who are truly excited about the brash businessman. Stand up to him and you risk GOP voters skipping over your name.
But House Republicans seemed confident recently that they weren’t suffering the down-ballot effects that Democrats had expected. “We’re in a much stronger position than anybody thought,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Sept. 26, adding that he hadn’t seen a race that had a single GOP incumbent down.
That is almost certainly an exaggeration. Look no further than Rep. Bob Dold’s Illinois district, or Rep. David Jolly’s Florida 13th, or Rep. Frank Guinta’s New Hampshire 1st district. But Republicans no doubt were feeling better than they had expected, largely because they were able to avoid the Trump tarnish. Voters just weren’t connecting Trump with their incumbent GOP Representative.
That was, until Friday.
With Trump’s remarks about women coming to light ― comments that, more than just being vulgar, suggest Trump has made unwanted sexual advances on women ― there seems to be a real turn in this election.
Already, five House Republicans have either withdrawn their endorsement or called on Trump to drop out of the race: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah).
Now that those members have taken a stand, there could be other Republicans who feel the need to revoke their support. Which is not to say those Republicans can just escape the Trump taint.
As another DCCC spokesman, Tyler Law, said early Saturday after news that vulnerable Coffman was calling on Trump to abandon his presidential bid, “this political charade changes nothing.”
“Donald Trump’s true character became clear when he attacked a Gold Star family, said he knew more about the Islamic State militant group than Army generals, called women slobs and pigs and labeled Mexicans as rapists and murderers. Coffman has had more than enough time to find some moral conviction and stand up to Trump,” Law said, conveniently laying out the game-plan against Republicans who suddenly find the courage to stand up to Trump.
Coffman’s case is particularly poignant. He’s in a heavily Latino district. For Colorado, at least, that looks apt to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He had already expressed unease with Trump, suggesting that he couldn’t endorse the GOP nominee, but that unease awkwardly manifested itself Friday night.
After his Democratic challenger, Morgan Carroll, slammed him for his silence, Coffman told the Aurora Sentinel newspaper that Trump’s comments on women were “deeply offensive and disgusting.” Hours later, with the paper noting that Coffman still hadn’t said who he’d vote for, Coffman upgraded his discontent by calling on Trump to “step aside.”
And this seems like the major shift.
Not only are these comments beyond the pale, but their timing is particularly troubling for House Republicans.
Republicans are suddenly going to have to account for their Trump support, even their lack of opposition to the former reality TV personality, in a more direct way. House Republicans may finally own Trump. And if, as many expect, the nominee’s support craters because of these comments, Republicans would be facing a difficult climate anyway ― forget a lack of split-ticket voters.
As another Democratic aide said late Friday night, “Who comes out unscathed in this?”
The DCCC seems to think what makes these comments especially damaging ― on top of being vile ― is that voters are finally paying attention.
“Not only are these comments beyond the pale, but their timing is particularly troubling for House Republicans,” Kelly said. “Given the heightened voter engagement at this point in the cycle, we expect to see real impact from this story and Republican failure to denounce Trump as a result.”
Kelly added that Democrats are, of course, tailoring their message to the district. But the DCCC’s strategy has always been to get earned media with Trump, and use paid money on whatever issue polls best in each area.
For most of these races, Democrats had thought Trump would be a weight on the GOP ticket, particularly in suburban, educated, and affluent districts. But there had been plenty of concern that the Democratic Party had put up too many weak candidates who couldn’t get within striking distance of incumbent Republicans, and that Trump wasn’t the anvil that strategists expected, especially in Rust Belt areas.
Still, almost everyone expected the Democrats to pick up seats. It was just that gains of 10 seats, maybe 15, were looking far likelier than 20, 25, or the 30 needed for them to take back the majority.
Democrats were looking at the map, and even with more than 50 seats held by Republicans that have a Partisan Voting Index score of R+4 or better ― with seven seats actually having a Democratic PVI ― the Cook Political Report was rating two-thirds of those seats as either “Safe Republican,” “Likely Republican,” or “Lean Republican.”
But now, if Clinton actually does wipe the floor with Trump, there are a whole host of other seats that could suddenly come into play. Seats like Kevin Yoder’s Kansas district, which is an R+5. Or an open seat race in Virginia’s 5th district, another R+5 that wasn’t really on anyone’s radar.
And those races that were once tilting toward Republicans could suddenly swing in the direction of the Democrats. Twenty seats suddenly doesn’t look so far-fetched, and who controls the House come the 115th Congress isn’t such a ridiculous question anymore, if this scandal turns out to be as big of a deal as the early traction seems to indicate.
This could be the scandal that finally lands on Trump. And House Republicans who saw no signs of a Democratic wave could get pulled down by the undertow.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump
This article has been updated to include the latest House Republicans to withdraw their endorsement or called on Trump to drop out of the race.