By Mark Cebert
The Republican Party may have a Donald Trump problem. His proposed policies have resonated with many Americans frustrated with Washington politics. His nationalist and populist rhetoric has reverberated with citizens wary of the threat of ISIS. Donald Trump is connecting with traditional conservative voters and is bringing what was once fringe conservatism into the national Republican platform. He has superseded most predictions of his political effectiveness and has positioned himself to become president. And yet, he has placed the Republican Party in possibly the worst predictable position; although he has garnered support from his base, Trump’s unpopularity and callous approach to politics has not only jeopardized the Republican Party’s presidential aspirations, but has also threatened their Senate majority.
This effect is demonstrative of just how polarizing a political figure Donald Trump is. Though many in the country dislike Hillary Clinton as well, Trump has done little to persuade undecided voters that he is suited to become commander-in-chief. To make matters worse, the recently released 2005 Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump refers to his sexual assault of women, and the ensuing accusations of sexual misconduct by twelve (as of the date of this article) women has increased American’s disapproval of the Republican nominee and forced many of his former surrogates to withdraw their support. Rather than expressing an attitude of remorse, the Trump campaign has gone on the offensive, attacking Clinton, the media, and even polls showing Clinton in the lead. Trump’s history of alarming and flamboyant statements has blighted both his name and the Republican name in many circles. And this is precisely where the Trump problem manifests itself. More politically problematic for Republican lawmakers nationwide is the down-ballot effect. With an immensely unpopular head of the ticket, many Republicans fear that Trump’s name could tarnish their names, especially those who expressed previous support of their nominee. This is an ironic branding situation for the once risk-taking real estate mogul facing bankruptcy who transformed his business model into a low-risk licensing scheme that puts his name on other people’s projects. Democrats, aware of this "Trumped-by-association" dynamic, have pushed for their senatorial candidates to compete in states that, heading into the election, were solid Republican territory. This situation leaves the Republican leadership with a dilemma. Should Republicans remove support from their nominee, risking the loss of the White House and the Supreme Court, to save down-ballot Republicans aiming to hold their majority in the Senate? Or does Trump have a reasonable shot at turning the tides and winning the election?
For the answer, we may find help in Nate Silver, now a familiar face in polling and campaign statistics, and his Fivethirtyeight blog. Nate Silver is an ESPN statistician who rose to prominence in 2008 for the statistical accuracy of his election prediction. Using Fivethirtyeight’s predictions, we can see that, although Clinton still stands in the lead, her advantage is dwindling, and Trump is gaining ground in key battleground states. After the 3rd presidential debate, Fivethirtyeight gave Clinton an 87.3% chance of winning the election. By November 3rd, just days before the election, Clinton’s chance of winning has
been reduced to 65.9%, while Trump has garnered a 34.1% chance of winning — impressive considering the perceived state of crisis of the Trump campaign a month ago.
Based on the improved outlook of the Trump campaign, it is perhaps wise that ranking Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, have (although reluctantly) thrown support behind the nominee. Republicans are beginning to realize Donald Trump can conceivably win the presidency. Recent events, particularly FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress effectively re-opening the investigation into Clinton’s emails, have given the Trump campaign a boost after a brutal October. According to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, 270 electoral votes are not completely out of Trump’s reach. Though unlikely, wins in most of the swing states (Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire and others) could see Trump narrow what once seemed like a possible Clinton landslide victory into an election too close to call.
Supporting Trump is a gamble for the Republican establishment. Americans have developed a habit of down-ballot voting, a practice where one votes for one party throughout the ballot, usually based on the candidate on the head of the ticket. Many Republicans have feared that, due to his polarizing nature, Donald Trump would cause people to vote for Democrats down the ballot. Similar to this effect, many Republicans hoping to retain their Congressional seats have been reluctant to support Trump, fearing that even associating with Trump’s party, and certainly endorsing the nominee, would create a negative association in some voter’s minds. Although Trump may not be the source of the Republicans' senatorial position, the Republicans seem to be at serious risk of losing the Senate. Fivethirtyeight gives the Democrats a 64.8% chance of winning the Senate, a trend that has worried many Republican lawmakers. If they lose the Senate and the presidency, the Democrats would have the majority needed to push much of their party platform. A loss of the Senate or presidency puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position. A loss of both, possibly the worst-case scenario for conservatives, seems more likely than not. The unlikelihood of Congress voting on President Obama’s nominees for the Supreme Court, and the next president’s power to nominate a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, added to the importance of the outcomes of the Senate and presidential races, means that this 2016 election could be one of the most significant in modern political history.
Sources cited on eventorumpuc.org