McManus: Trump is hurting GOP’s bid for control of Congress

Two months ago, as Americans began their summer vacation, the political landscape looked bleak for Joe Biden and his Democrats.

Inflation rose; the president’s popularity plummeted. Political forecasters said a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in November’s congressional elections seemed almost a foregone conclusion. A Senate GOP takeover also seemed within reach, which would sentence Biden to two years of partisan deadlock.

The climate had changed in the past week. Biden’s popularity, still well below 50%, had struggled back towards seriousness. Polls from the Wall Street Journal and CBS News suggested November’s election tightened — not enough to give Democrats much confidence, but enough to scare Republicans.

In last week’s Wall Street Journal poll, Democrats had a slight advantage, 47% to 44%, when voters were asked which party they favored in the congressional vote — the first Democratic lead of the journal polls all year.

Pollsters point to several reasons for the postponement. Gas prices have eased somewhat. Congress saved Biden’s legislative agenda by passing a sweeping climate and health bill. And the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which guaranteed abortion rights, has moderate women and younger voters in a frenzy.

Now add an unusual placeholder – the angry reemergence of former President Trump, the most polarizing figure in American politics.

Of course, since losing to Biden in the 2020 presidential election, Trump has never walked away. Unlike other former presidents, not only has he refused to acknowledge his electoral loss, he has continued to demand obedience from his party and planned a possible comeback.

As the 2022 congressional campaign has heated up, Trump has roared back into the arena, backing GOP candidates who back his baseless allegations of voter fraud and punishing those who don’t.

Even if he weren’t campaigning, Trump would be in the news thanks to the FBI’s search of his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, for classified documents he appeared to be illegally keeping when he left the White House.

But Trump has tried to turn his legal troubles into a rallying point for his supporters.

On Saturday at a GOP campaign rally in Pennsylvania, he denounced FBI agents as “vicious monsters” who followed orders from Democrats to “stop me from returning to the White House.”

The Mar-a-Lago search last month has infuriated Trump and his supporters.

The former president condemned this as an “attack on democracy”. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, one of his most avid cheerleaders, said it was time to “bail the FBI.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another Trump acolyte, warned that prosecuting the former president would provoke “riots in the streets.”

Not surprisingly, the ensuing legal battles dominated coverage for weeks — and got directly in the way of the campaign message Republican leaders hoped to spread.

“If everything [in the news] With Mar-a-Lago every night, it’s difficult to keep the economy in people’s minds,” GOP polling researcher and strategist David Winston told me last week.

The key to November’s GOP prospects isn’t mobilizing Trump loyalists to vote, he said; You are already energized. She courts independents and moderate Republicans.

“This election is going to be about independents,” Winston said, adding that when those voters see Trump on their TV screens, “their reaction is, ‘That guy again?'”

When it comes to Biden and the economy, that’s good for Republicans. When it comes to Trump, that’s good for the Democrats.

Trump doesn’t seem to understand this, but Biden and the Democrats do.

A midterm election is often a referendum on the incumbent president — in this case, Biden.

Democrats are instead hoping to make the election a Biden-Trump choice — a repeat of the 2020 contest that Biden won with ease.

Biden’s impassioned speech in Philadelphia last week, in which he denounced Trump and the “MAGA Republicans” as extremists who “pose a threat to this country,” tied directly to the original animate theme of the President’s 2020 campaign.

“I ran for president because I believed we were in a battle for the soul of this nation,” he said. “I still believe that’s true.”

Biden clearly believes in those sentiments — but they’re also politically useful to Democrats.

To borrow another Bidenism, he says: Don’t compare his party to the Almighty; Compare it to the alternative.

No wonder Republicans want to change the subject.

By most forecasts, the GOP still has a better chance of taking control of the House, where a net gain of just five seats would allow them to oust Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

But thanks in part to Trump, Republicans face an uphill battle in the 50-50 Senate even though they only need one more seat to take power.

Trump-backed candidates are fighting in four states where the GOP believed their chances were good: Pennsylvania (Dr. Mehmet Oz), Georgia (Herschel Walker), Ohio (JD Vance) and Arizona (Blake Masters).

Trump arguably helped Democrats gain control of the Senate in January 2021 when he messily intervened in the Georgia runoff, telling Republicans the voting process was corrupt and their votes were wasted. He may be on the verge of repeating this dubious feat.

If so, Senate Democratic Chairman Charles E. Schumer of New York will be indebted to him.

And Republicans are left with a deeper lesson: Perhaps relying on an angry, radicalized base isn’t just bad for the country; it is also a bad voting strategy. McManus: Trump is hurting GOP’s bid for control of Congress

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