The Trump Trouble for GOP Senators in 2016
Although presidential candidate Donald Trump has been having a tough time after his loss in the Wisconsin primaries, he is still poised to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention. Unlike Ted Cruz and John Kasich, he has a fairly good chance of breaking the magic number of 1237 delegates. And even if he falls short of the cutoff, he will probably still walk away with a plurality of delegates, which could be enough for him to clinch the nomination since the majority of Republicans want the candidate with the most delegates to be awarded the nomination.
Granted this decent likelihood of seeing Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate, it is important to assess his impact on the 2016 Senate elections, which is currently given almost zero mainstream media coverage.
As a matter of fact, the 2016 Senate elections will be just as critical as the presidential elections, considering that the Senate has the power to approve future budget deals, reject plans proposed by the President, and accept Supreme Court nominations.
Given the current dynamics of the 2016 Senate elections, if Donald Trump does end up becoming the Republican presidential candidate, the Democrats will most likely be able to retake the Senate and win back a majority.
The Democrats now hold 44 Senate seats with Independent Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) both caucusing for the Democrats. Consequently, for this Senate election, the Democrats will need a net gain of at least five Senate seats to have a majority.
Out of the 34 Senate seats that are up for reelection in 2016, Republicans currently hold 24. In addition, among the remaining 10 Senate seats most likely to change, eight are held by Republicans.
Trump’s nomination will ultimately make defending a Republican majority in the Senate even more difficult. Many supporters who intend to vote for Trump feel left out by the Republican Party and so passionately reject any establishment candidate. As a result, they may refuse to vote for the Republican candidates for the Senate because many of them, such as Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), are perceived to be establishment insiders.
Likewise, many Republicans who are a part of the “Never Trump” Movement may refuse to turn out to vote. Only around 53 percent of Republican voters said that they’d be satisfied with Trump as the Republican nominee, which is a historic low considering that 72 percent of Republican voters said that they’d be satisfied with Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee in 2012. Although voter dissatisfaction does not directly translate into voters deciding to stay at home, it does indicate that many more Republicans than usual may refuse to come out to vote even if it means accepting a Clinton presidency.
One also needs to consider the possibility of a majority of the independent voters who can sway the battleground states by refusing to vote for the Republican Senate candidates because the Republican Party is already being branded as the “Party of Trump.” The creation of a questionable link between Trump and the Republican Party will become more apparent once the Republican Senate candidates, out of the need to show a unified party, declare their support for Trump.
This sentiment is already afoot: in Arizona, Ann Kirkpatrick, the frontrunner of Arizona’s Democratic Senate nomination, in her first ad linked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to Donald Trump after Sen. John McCain declared that he would support the party’s nominee even if he ends up being Donald Trump.
On the other side of the aisle, this “Trump effect” will generate a higher level of voter turnout for the Democratic Party, potentially enabling the party to win in battleground states. The Trump effect predicts that a Trump nomination will push women and minorities, particularly Hispanics, to register to vote and vote against Trump. Univision, the American Spanish language broadcast company, plans to register up to three million new Latino voters in 2016. Latino voters wouldn’t be the only hurdle facing Trump: Donald Trump has the lowest net favorability ratings among women compared to that of other presidential candidates at around negative 42 points, which may mean that women “will flock” to Hillary Clinton once he gets nominated, handing over the trophy to the Democratic Party.
In short, Trump’s nomination will most likely sink the Republican Party’s chances in defending its Senate majority in 2016. But then again, Donald Trump may not even care — for he seems to relish every opportunity of making his own party hate him.