By Jennifer Rubin
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The close special election in the Kansas 4th congressional district, which should have been a slam dunk for Republicans, and wariness about a special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district reflect Republicans’ lack of enthusiasm after less than three months of the Trump presidency. Anecdotal evidence indicates nerves are frayed and the mood glum. (“Republicans have grown fearful that these voters are recoiling from what they see as lamentable conditions in Washington: a government entirely in Republican hands that has failed to deliver on fundamental goals like overhauling the health care system, The New York Times recently reported. “Early missteps by President Trump and congressional leaders have weighed heavily on voters from the party’s more affluent wing, anchored in right-of-center suburbs around major cities in the South and Midwest. Never beloved in these precincts, Mr. Trump appears to be struggling to maintain support from certain voters who backed him last year, mainly as a way of defeating Hillary Clinton.”)
A combination of frustration over lack of legislative accomplishments, dismay at the three-ring personnel circus at the White House, disquieting evidence of synchronization if not outright collaboration with Russian election meddling, Trump’s obnoxious and angry demeanor and the absence of a Democratic bogeywoman to whom to compare Trump make it hard for Republicans, even in the aftermath of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, to bask in the glory of one-party government.
Party operatives and leaders must cringe when they hear the Senate majority leader acknowledge that Trump is trying to learn on the job (“I think President Trump is learning the job and some of the things that were said during the campaign I think he now knows that’s simply not the way things ought to be,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. When exactly will he be up to speed?
Even traditionally popular GOP policies don’t seem to excite the party faithful. A PRRI poll shows, “More than seven in ten Americans favor (31 percent) or strongly favor (41 percent) increasing the tax rate on those earning more than $250,000 a year, while less than three in ten oppose (19 percent) or strongly oppose (8 percent) the measure. A move to raise taxes on the rich sees bipartisan support, even among Republicans. Majorities of Democrats (83 percent), independents (73 percent), and Republicans (58 percent) express support.” That may mean a decided lack of GOP enthusiasm for a supply-side kind of tax plan that delivers disproportionate cuts to the rich.
In addition, Republicans have shown little inclination to defend Trump’s financial secrecy. The Hill reports, “Sixty-four percent of Republicans think that President Trump should publicly release his tax returns, according to a survey conducted by Global Strategy Group.” Trump doesn’t help himself by running up gigantic travel expenses trooping back and forth to Mar-A-Lago and refusing to eliminate conflicts of interest, including apparent violations of the emoluments clause.
Trump’s dash toward the political mainstream, including last Wednesday’s relatively “normal” press conference with the NATO secretary general, may indicate some recognition that Trump’s whirlwind has exhausted rather cheered dependable Republicans. The chattering class remains obsessed with Trump’s hold on white, working-class voters, but without the GOP regulars, who donate, walk precincts and vote in off-year elections, the Republican Party is in deep trouble. We’ve seen how one Republican after another has faced an angry horde of voters at town halls. Without turnout and enthusiasm to match those antagonists, middle-of-the-road Republicans in upscale and middle-class suburbs could be swept from office. Should the voters who in past years cast votes for Bush 43, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Mitt Romney — and then took a leap of faith on Trump — decide they’ve made a terrible miscalculation, Democrats will have a decent shot at taking back at least the House.
Jennifer Rubin is a columnist with The Washington Post.