Republicans seem desperate to make sure 2022 isn't about Trump

Republicans seem desperate to make sure 2022 isn't about Trump
Rick Scott // Credit: Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump has already turned into a drag on the Republican Party's midterm prospects, and GOP lawmakers know it.

That's why Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who's heading up the Senate GOP's midterm efforts, really desperately wants to talk about anything but Trump.

Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told a group of reporters that President Joe Biden is "our best asset right now." Scott rooted his comments in an internal GOP poll of 1,200 suburban voters nationwide, putting Biden's approval rating underwater and showing that a majority of them think the country is on the "wrong track."

From a historical perspective, a president's approval rating is usually predictive of how well their party does in midterm elections. As FiveThirtyEight.com wrote in March, "In the last four (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018), the incumbent president's disapproval rating was higher than his approval, and in all four cases, the president's party lost a sizable bloc of House seats. (The Senate results aren't quite as tied to presidential approval.)"

One recent exception to that rule was in 2002, after the 9/11 attack, when a rally-around-the-flag mentality buoyed George W. Bush's approval ratings, and Republicans netted eight seats in the House.

So Scott isn't wrong to hope that Biden's approvals remain underwater. That said, it's entirely possible that Biden's low approval ratings will recover, at least somewhat, particularly if Democrats manage to deliver both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and his Build Back Better jobs bill. (After notching a major early win with pandemic relief, Biden has been dogged for months by the delta variant, the Afghanistan withdrawal, and the inability of Democrats to push through his major agenda items.)

But the truth is, we have no way of forecasting Biden's approval ratings a year from now—or even six months from now. And what Scott's swagger entirely ignores is the corrosive effect Trump is already having on the GOP electorate, and the candidates to whom Senate Republicans will be asking voters to entrust their futures.

Look no further than Georgia, where Trump has now cleared the field for violence-prone abuser Herschel Walker to be the GOP's Senate nominee. This week, establishment Republicans officially began surrendering to Trump's bizarro pick for the critical race when Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, threw his support behind Walker.

So sure, we can look at approval ratings. But there's simply no historic measure for a party tethering itself to a twice-impeached defeated presidential incumbent who incited an attempted coup to maintain power indefinitely. And there's no historic measure for a party empowering that same mad man to handpick nearly every GOP candidate in all of the most hotly contested congressional races.

Scott bragged of the poll, "If I was a Democrat looking at this, it should scare the living daylights out of me."

But when asked about Trump's dominance in selecting GOP nominees, Politico reports, "Scott — without mentioning Trump directly by name — also insisted that endorsements aren't that important by noting that he won the Florida GOP primary for governor in 2010 despite widespread opposition."

Because according to Scott, the U.S. political landscape today hasn't shifted one iota since 2010, when the Republican Party—by today's standards—still seemed relatively sane and perhaps even interested (or maybe just resigned) to the notion of America remaining a democracy.

Republicans want to talk about President Biden right now for obvious reasons, but there's no guarantee that his approval ratings will stay where they are.

What Republicans absolutely don't want to talk about is Donald Trump and his conspiracy-driven obsession with the 2020 election results.

And while Biden's future approval ratings are a mystery to us all, Trump's preferred topic conversation is not: He will spend the rest of his days on this planet baselessly griping about the unfairness of the 2020 elections. And so long as he controls the GOP, that obsession will drive every election message and nearly every significant candidate selection regardless of what poll Rick Scott waves around in reporters' faces.

Two words: Herschel Walker.

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