(This column is for Republicans only. If you’re a Democrat or independent, please move on to the sports section.)
Here’s the stark reality: If Republicans want to win back Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024, they must begin now disconnecting their party from Donald Trump’s domination.
This doesn’t mean they must denounce the former president — that won’t happen in any case, he’s too popular with Republican voters. But it does mean quietly removing the party from under his thumb.
If the midterm election next year is about litigating Trump’s grievances, Republicans lose. If it is about policy contrasts that work to their advantage, Republicans win. This conclusion is based on simple math, the kind where one plus one equals two.
Republicans have felt an obligation to Donald Trump for beating Hillary Clinton, attacking Democrats and appointing hundreds of conservative judges. In return, GOP officials and rank-and-file voters stuck with Trump throughout his four tumultuous years in office and his bumpy reelection campaign.
Here’s the bottom line: The Republican Party has paid its debt to Trump and must now move beyond the 2020 election — which it lost — and concentrate on 2022 and 2024, elections it can win.
Republicans have a chance at regaining a U.S. House majority next year and a longer, but possible, shot at taking the Senate. Though the far left is giving them plenty of fodder for the next election, the Republican Party still must strengthen its appeal beyond Trump’s base. Specifically, Republicans need to do better with independents, suburban women and voters with college degrees — and being tied too tightly to Trump makes that difficult.
Based on a recent YouGov poll, Trump’s negative rating among college educated white women is 62% — that’s heavy baggage for Republican congressional candidates to carry in close elections.
While it may be good politics in red states, such as Louisiana, to run as the “Trump candidate,” that strategy is more likely to backfire in battleground states — from Pennsylvania to Arizona, North Carolina to Michigan, New Hampshire to Wisconsin — where independents and centrists will tip the balance.
Republicans who think they can win back Congress with only Trump’s populist-right base are as wrong as Democrats who think they can hold Congress with only their left-leaning base. Ultimately, cross-pressured independents who dislike Democrats and Republicans, Biden and Trump, will determine who wins — as they did in the last two presidential elections.
Republicans should also be mindful that Trump is endorsing congressional candidates who are primarily loyal to him, and these candidates aren’t always the strongest possible contenders against Democrats. Losing winnable races because of weak general election candidates could prevent Republicans from retaking both houses of Congress, especially when Senate control may hinge on one or two seats.
Republicans can’t afford to let Democrats make Trump the central issue in upcoming elections. Doing so denies Republicans a clean shot on issues important to them — such as border security, crime, spending, taxes, cancel culture, inflation (if it keeps going up) and foreign policy (if Biden’s policies fail).
Message distractions can be deadly, and Donald Trump is a message distraction.
There is no better proof than the two Senate runoffs in Georgia last December. Republican incumbents were positioned to win both, but got tangled up in Trump’s personal politics and went down to defeat. Ramifications have been enormous: With these losses, Senate control went to Democrats.
A recent poll conducted by the Republican firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates finds that 53% of GOP voters have some level of resistance to renominating Trump, even though most of them still love him. In the poll, Trump led the field of possible Republican candidates by 47% to 40%, a clear but not a crushing lead.
It’s surely easier for me, a political independent with no stake in either party’s business, to make this case than it is for Republicans to implement it. But if Republicans want to win in 2022 and in 2024, they must make themselves the party of the future, not the past, and that requires quietly disconnecting from the former president before it’s too late.
And if they don’t? Perhaps these three words — President Kamala Harris — will explain what happens next.
Ron Faucheux is a nonpartisan political analyst, pollster and publisher of LunchtimePolitics.com, a newsletter on polls. He’s based in New Orleans.