President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis has been a calculating moment for his Republican Party, whose leaders have largely embraced its disease-minimization strategy but now face an austere political nightmare within one month of Election Day.
The president’s infection has brought the pandemic to the forefront as Republicans would rather talk about Trump’s Supreme Court candidate, law enforcement or the economy as early voting is underway in most States. They include Iowa and North Carolina, and say Republicans must win to maintain their three-vote lead in the Senate.
Another Republican senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin on Saturday announced he had tested positive for the virus, the third GOP senator last week.
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With Trump in Walter Reed Military Hospital for treatment and quarantine, the virus appeared to be spreading to every corner of the party. The tests came back positive for Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, Republican Party President Ronna McDaniel and Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a vulnerable incumbent who announced Friday that he would be quarantined for 10 days at the height of the election season.
The pandemic even spread to a topic the GOP hoped to be its safe harbor in the final weeks of the campaign – the looming confirmation from Trump’s Supreme Court candidate Amy Coney Barrett. Videos of an unmasked Lee mingling with other Tory luminaries at a White House ceremony for Barrett have been broadcast relentlessly on cable news, turning the party’s drive to reshape the court into a story about the spread of a deadly virus.
The infections of Lee and Tillis, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, call into question whether Republicans can stick to their aggressive Barrett confirmation schedule before Election Day.
But U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Saturday that committee business, like the confirmation hearing for Barrett, would continue even if all Senate activities were postponed.
“The previously scheduled floor activity will be postponed after October 19.[…]The important work of Senate committees can and will continue as each committee sees fit, ”McConnell said in a statement.
Johnson is not on the panel and was not at the Rose Garden event.
“It’s a challenge,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster active in five Senate races. “It would be better if the discussion was about jobs and the economy, or even Joe Biden is going to be held captive on the left. But the election will be about the coronavirus, and that is not favorable ground for Republicans.
In private conversations over the past few months, Republicans had reached a level of stoicism about how their fate was attached to the president, even as he ricocheted in outrage in outrage and denied the severity of a killing pandemic. thousands of their constituents. Their inability to escape Trump is due in part to their acceptance of his personality and his platform, but also a reality of the country’s polarized politics – lawmakers are rising or falling more and more with their presidential candidate. left.
“People vote for the uniform, red or blue,” Bolger said. “As the President says, so are a lot of Republicans on the downside.
This has forced Republican lawmakers in competitive states to follow what GOP pollster Whit Ayres called “a fine line” – putting enough distance between themselves and Trump to eliminate swing voters without alienating the loyal base of the president who will punish everything. republican who does not agree with him.
The candidates tried different tactics. In Colorado and Montana, Senator Cory Gardner and Senator Steve Daines have touted a big conservation bill they sponsored. In Maine, Senator Susan Collins highlighted her history of relative independence from the party leadership. In Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst tried to avoid discussing Trump’s more erratic tweets and statements.
The re-emergence of the pandemic puts Trump back to where he has been most of his four years in power: center stage. But it can also remind voters of healthcare and the GOP’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of Democrats’ election message.
The Supreme Court is due to hear arguments in a GOP case to overturn the health care law soon after the election. Earlier last week, six Republicans, including Collins, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan and Gardner, joined Democrats in a procedural vote to try to protect him, a sign of senators’ vulnerability on the issue.
The political peril of the looming court case was evident on Friday night during Colorado’s first Senate race debate. Gardner’s Democratic challenger, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has relentlessly attacked the outgoing Republican over his repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act – and the dangers of Barrett overturning the law once he is it is approved.
“Are we really going, in the midst of a pandemic, to cut health care and protections for people with pre-existing diseases?” Hickenlooper asked, noting that Gardner supported Trump’s efforts to repeal the law in 2017.
Republicans have been taking the blows of Democrats over the repeal push for years, but they can now be haunted by their association with Trump’s live-and-let-live approach to the pandemic. In March, Arizona Senator Martha McSally compared suggestions that people drastically change their lifestyles to “panic.”
“That doesn’t mean everyone has to stay home, don’t go to work, don’t take spring break, don’t live their life,” she says. “It’s actually too much of a panic reaction.”
And a month ago, Ernst received criticism after saying she was “skeptical” of government coronavirus statistics and wondered if they had been inflated.
Publicly, GOP senators still don’t want daylight between their majority and Trump. “Full steam ahead,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted of Trump’s agenda, especially Barrett’s confirmation.
Trump’s forties put him out of the election campaign for a critical period. Several Republicans doubted the president would take a break, praising his stamina, and some suggested the diagnosis could “soften” voters who are fed up with Trump’s impetuous approach to government.
“He works so hard to be a badass, but that can sweeten him a bit and get people to say, ‘OK, you know he’s human too,’ said Rep Morgan Griffith, R-Va. , Who was previously infected with the virus.
“You always encourage someone who is down,” he says.
Still, it’s been an anxious week for the party. Senate races are much more tied to Trump’s perceptions, including his handling of the pandemic, than candidates’ specific messages about the virus, Republican pollster Ed Goeas said.
In fact, Goeas argued that Trump’s belligerent performance in Tuesday’s debate had further hurt his chances of winning over finicky Republicans and hesitant independents, a development that could hurt GOP Senate candidates in tight contests.
“My biggest concern was the debate,” said Goeas, whose company is currently voting in several Senate races. “He played so poorly in this debate, that not only could this have been the end of the Trump presidency and the chances of winning re-election, but it might have put another nail in the coffin of loss of control of the Senate. “
With a report from Reuters