Greg Sargent’s Plum Line post, “The GOP has a new strategy to hold Congress. Here’s how Democrats will fight it” previews dueling messaging for the final two weeks of the presidential campaign. As Sargent explains,
Republicans scrambling to salvage control of Congress amid Donald Trump’s downward tailspin have hit on a new message: A GOP-controlled House and Senate are necessary to act as a check on President Hillary Clinton. The message basically argues for divided government as a way to prevent her from going too far, in effect admitting that the presidential race is a goner.
But Democrats insist that this message will be a non-starter, and they shared new internal polling with this blog that they argue backs up their claim. Dems say they can rebut the Republicans’ line of attack by pointing out that they are openly, explicitly promising more obstruction in Washington, something swing voters and independents despise.
Sargent notes that pro-Republican PACs have ads loaded that are designed to gin up fear of a ‘rubber stamp’ congress ready to Give HRC free reign. He notes that Democratic internal polling, with all of the appropriate caveats, indicates voters in 30 contested House districts are more inclined to vote for the Democratic congressional candidate by a margin of 50 to 40 percent.
Further, adds Sargent, “66 percent of respondents expect Republicans to try to block Clinton even if it means more gridlock and inaction in Washington, while only 23 percent think they will work constructively with Clinton, meaning they’re prepared to believe GOP control means more obstruction.”
Recent history indicates that split-ticket voting in presidential election years is declining. The Republicans hope that 2016 will prove to be an exceptional year and the Democratic nominee will prove to be more of a drag down-ballot, but statistical evidence of that happening is scant at best. If Clinton is a drag down-ballot, Trump is a leaden anchor.
“Republicans want this argument to be about whether Congress will stand up to overreaching President Hillary,” says Sargent, “while Democrats want it to be about whether Washington is going to function again or whether we’re going to see more of the same gridlock and dysfunction that GOP control of the House meant during the Obama years.”
The Republicans have already done a thorough job of branding themselves as the party of obstruction, as most recently demonstrated in John McCain’s comments. As Jonathan Bernstein notes at Bloomberg View,
We’ve heard hopeful claims lately that the Republican Party could be a normal, healthy, functional political party if it hadn’t accidentally nominated Donald Trump. But John McCain has reminded us that this is not the case.
McCain, speaking in support of Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said: “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”
It’s probably too much to hope that McCain will pay the appropriate price for his nakedly obstructionist comments, even though Clinton is doing better than expected in Arizona. Democrats need only to remind voters of other GOP leadership comments openly urging endless gridlock, and they’ve got plenty of examples. If American voters are genuinely fed up with Republican obstruction, the GOP has a very tough sell two weeks out.
The implicit message behind the GOP strategy is an admission that their presidential candidate is going to lose, which may further depress turnout of Republican voters, or drive many of them to vote for a third party candidate, like Gary Johnson. “Ultimately,” concludes Sargent, “a lot of this may end up being determined by how big a margin Clinton runs up in victory.”
Democrats have every reason to be optimistic about winning back Senate control. A net Democratic pick up of four senate seats is not that much of a stretch, particularly with such a deeply-flawed presidential candidate providing the face of the G.O.P.
I’ve seen estimates that Dems will win back the House speakership on Clinton’s coattails, if she wins the popular vote by 7 percent to double-digits. “The House of Representatives was thought to be out of play because it is so affected by partisan redistricting as to require a seven-plus-point swing to Democrats for them to net the more than 30 seats required to recapture the chamber,” writes David Malet at The Conversation. But such ‘rules of thumb’ matter a lot less down-ballot than which party cranks up the better GOTV effort. In that regard, early voting indications, weak Republican turn-out operations and other signs point to a bad outcome for the Republicans.