WASHINGTON, March 17, 2016 — Billionaire businessman and GOP presidential contender Donald Trump leads the delegate race toward the nomination, and GOP senators are running away from him. In any normal campaign year, the candidate leading this late in the game and heading toward the convention would be gathering support from party officials, not seeing them heading for the exit. But this is not a normal presidential primary election year.
GOP senators up for reelection in blue or purple states may sense their vulnerability in what was already a difficult year. Senators like Ohio’s Rob Portman, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson may decide they’d be better off running from Trump than with him.
These senators and others in state and local races are frantic. The GOP establishment and forces opposed to Trump have convinced them that with Trump at the top of the ticket, Republican majorities will be wiped out, returning Congress and statehouses to Democratic control. But is this alarmist thinking? Is there an upside to a Trump candidacy as well?
Trump, unlike the past two GOP standard bearers—Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008 and former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney in 2012—has galvanized millions of voters to his side. According to the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, “3.2 million more people voted in GOP nominating contests than in Democratic contests this year through March 5, and 1.2 million more independents voted in Republican contests this year than in 2012.”
In what should be welcome news to Senator Toomey, nearly 50,000 registered Pennsylvania Democrats switched their party affiliation to the GOP based on state records this year. Only half that many Republicans moved to the Democrat side of the aisle. The enthusiasm being shown in the GOP caucus and primary races is real and is on the uptick, in large part due to the Trump factor.
It is understandable that officials and candidates running for election or reelection would be a bit skittish. For them, Trump is not only an unknown ingredient in the 2016 political dish; his candidacy is causing the establishment serious heartburn. Yet, there may be light at the end of the general election tunnel this November.
The political salvation for those senators and other down-ticket office-holders this year is that their constituents are heading to the polls in record numbers. This is the year of the dissatisfied, disenchanted and disempowered American voter; they want their country back.
This phenomenon is being felt in both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Thousands of angry voters are showing up at Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ rallies, as well as at Trump’s, and at the polls they number in the millions.
Perhaps these GOP senators who are facing reelection in swing voter states may not have to run to far from Trump should he become the GOP presidential nominee. After all, new voters in the millions may prove the difference in their razor close general election battles.