There is a particular dilemma for those elected
Republicans who have publicly (and often bitterly)
opposed President Trump, especially those running
this year. That is because, as almost all polls indicate,
the president’s base of support has not only remained
intact, it has appeared, following the passage of tax
reform legislation, to be growing among Republican
voters and some independent voters.
This is not a dilemma for most Democratic candidates,
especially communicating with their base --- a base
which, if anything, is more anti-Trump than ever, and
which apparently will be highly motivated to vote in
November. It is a problem for those Democrats running
this cycle in states, such as Montana, North Dakota,
Missouri, Indiana and West Virginia each of which Mr.
Trump carried by large margins in 2016 --- but these
candidates for U.S. house and senate are relatively few
(albeit critical to hoped-for liberal gains in the 2018
The “never-Trump” sentiment has been, and continues
to be, very virulent in the mainstream media and even
among certain conservative pundits, but they are not
running for office this year.
Two sitting senators, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob
Corker of Tennessee, both strongly critical of their
party’s president, have already announced their
retirements. Flake especially had no chance for
re-election because of his harsh criticism of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Corker is reportedly reconsidering his withdrawal,
but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has
reportedly told Corker he must make peace with the
president if he wants to run.
There are a few individual congressional districts where
Republicans won while Hillary Clinton carried the
districts by big margins. An example of this was the
Minnesota 3rd district which Mrs. Clinton carried by
double digits, and GOP incumbent Eric Paulsen, a
Trump critic, carried by a similar margin. But such
districts are few, and depend much on local conditions
The dilemma also involves many GOP gubernatorial
candidates. Donald Trump surprisingly almost carried
Minnesota, and remains popular there. Former
Governor Tim Pawlenty seems poised for a comeback
this year, but he was critical of candidate Trump in 2016.
Otherwise the most formidable GOP candidate in
2018, Pawlenty could not run this year as an
anti-Trumper, and have any hope of winning.
The question is, then: How do those Republicans critical
of President Trump in the past make a transition that is
acceptable to their GOP base?
One answer to that question might now being made by
GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada. Senator Heller
supported another Republican for the 2016 presidential
nomination. He was critical of nominee Trump, and
resisted the president’s policy on repealing Obamacare.
He was lumped together with Senator Flake as being the
most vulnerable GOP senator up for re-election this year.
But Mr. Heller and Mr, Flake then took quite different
political paths. Senator Flake became even more hostile
to the president, and even wrote a book denouncing him.
Not surprisingly, his poll numbers took a nosedive among
Arizona Republicans --- and his re-election was hopeless.
Mr. Heller, on the other hand, while disagreeing with the
president on a few issues, strongly supported him on tax
reform --- and adopting the attitude that it’s not what
Donald Trump says, but what he does, he has been
increasingly praising Mr. Trump for his leadership.
Senator Heller’s Democratic opponent this year is a
one-term congresswoman who voted against tax reform.
Nevada has been one of the states that has gained the
most from tax legislation, and is already very popular.
To be fair, Nevada is a “purple” state evenly divided
between Republicans and Democrats. Senator Heller’s
re-election is not a certainty, especially in a state where
more than $100 million will be spent on the senate race
alone. But whereas anti-Trump candidate Heller had
virtually zero chance to win re-election, Trump ally
Heller (even though he continues to disagree with the
president on certain issues) is now a slight favorite in a
toss-up race. His transition was not only pragmatic, but
also the recognition that Donald Trump won the
presidential election skillfully against great odds, and
was now the leader of his party. Most importantly,
Heller says, he agrees with much of what the president
Most Democrats, some independents, and a certain
number of Republicans still find Donald Trump
unacceptable to them as president. As a political
disrupter of establishment ways, this was inevitable.
The jury is still out on whether he will be a successful
president, although his first year in office was better
than expected. Whether he will be re-elected in 2020 is
It is clear, however, that his support in his own party, and
especially among rural and working class voters remains
strong enough today that only in very rare and local
instances could a Republican candidate run harshly
critical of President Trump --- and have even a remote
chance of winning in 2018.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.