Monday, December 28, 2015

Republican clown car fills vulnerable Senate Republicans with dread

There's a mess of swing-state Republicans in the Senate up for re-election this year, and they're all eyeing the upcoming presidential primary votes with trepidation and dread. As if current events weren't volatile enough, they could be facing a run with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. It's a recipe for heartburn.

While the senators followed the time-honored swing state playbook — moving to the middle on key issues like gun control or the environment to highlight bipartisanship, shoring up swing constituencies back home, building critical campaign infrastructure early — they also watched Donald Trump swoop in and dominate the headlines, terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino inflame Americans’ growing sense of insecurity, and the most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives suddenly disappear from the political scene.

And on top of that, most senators facing tough 2016 races know they will also have the presidential campaign raging at full volume in their battleground states, drowning them out with media attention and super PAC ads. It is a sobering thought for individuals who wield considerable power in their day-to-day lives and are now confronted with stronger forces at work.

They are being advised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "do only what they can do: focus on their own jobs, he said in an interview with POLITICO this month." But they've got a majority leader like McConnell who keeps forcing tea party and presidential primary-driven votes on them, like defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare—including Medicaid expansion in many of their states. So doing their own jobs isn't doing them any favors. 

Then they've got the specter of running on the same ticket as Donald Trump or even Ted Cruz. The internecine warfare between Cruz and the rest of the Senate could make running with him tricky. Their best hope is Marco Rubio, the guy who hates being one of them so much that his abdication of the job has become a campaign issue. 

Relying on the coattails of the top of the ticket for long enough to drag them to victory isn't looking to be a very good bet for them at this point. Taking the kinds of votes McConnell has been forcing on them isn't helping a lot either. Nor is being part of the least productive, most obstructionist Senate in memory. An awful lot can happen in the next 10 months to alter the political environment they'll be running in, but one thing is pretty certain. The top of their ticket is going to stink.

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