Column: Congress worried about Republican nominee for its own sake

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Appleton, Wis. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Despite gaffe after gaffe, countless faux pas and alienating one demographics after another, and even being told by Anderson Cooper that his arguing style – “he started it” – is reminiscent of a 5-year old, Donald Trump has come out of every incident with his lead in the Republican primary mostly intact.

While Ted Cruz stands to take Wisconsin on their April 5 primary, things are generally looking up in the primary for this polarizing businessman.

The other Republican presidential candidates aren’t the only ones mortified at the prospect of a Trump campaign lasting past June, though: Both legislative bodies in Congress – although more likely the Senate than the House – stand to lose majorities in the 2016 midterm elections more or less as a result of a Trump (or arguably Cruz, which is also scary) presidential nomination.

Right now, Republicans control the Senate 54-46 and maintain a 30-representative lead in the House. 24 Republican senatorial seats are up for grabs vs. 10 Democratic ones, as are all 435 Representative seats.

Obviously, Republicans are going to win in states like Oklahoma, South Carolina and Alabama. But the point of contention lies with senators who won in 2010 in swingier states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, especially because more Democrats vote in election years.

Another prominent example is New Hampshire, where Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, is running opposite the state’s popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. Ayotte has a tough battle ahead of her because of her moderate tendencies; in the past, she supported quasi-liberal affairs such as the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration overhaul and drug rehabilitation programs for addicts. However, she said she would refuse to reject a Trump presidential nomination should it happen.

Currently, she is walking a weird middle ground, trying to court supporters of Trump – who won overwhelmingly in her state’s primary – and not abandoning the principles resulting in her successful previous Senatorial bid. You know, the ones that don’t involve bigotry and building a fiscally irresponsible wall.

If one Democratic senator from each of these states wins their midterm elections, the Senate is tied at 50-50. Should Republicans lose any more seats, which could happen in places such as Ohio – Rob Portman is only polling slightly ahead of former governor and Obama/Biden endorsee Ted Strickland – Democrats can claim a Senate majority, provided they don’t lose seats anywhere else.

The House is certainly trickier for Democrats to take, with the GOP leading by 30 seats. Leftist magazine The American Prospect heavily relies on the potency of the #NeverTrump movement to keep voters at home should he become the nominee: “If the #NeverTrump movement doesn't lose steam and lots of prominent Republicans distance themselves from their party's nominee, it could mean Republican voters staying home in large numbers, which would make it possible for Democrats to win back the seats they need to take control.”

That doesn’t look as likely, though, considering only a handful of preeminent Republicans have explicitly refused to accept Trump as the nominee, Freshman Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Others like Glenn Beck certainly have the popular reach to derail some non-Trump voters (and transitively, a vote that probably would have gone to a congressional Republican), but there’s no guarantee that would usurp 30 seats, again assuming no Democratic loss. One must also consider the way congressional districts are gerrymandered extensively for a Republican advantage.

Nevertheless, throwing away the GOP’s bicameral majority would have lasting effects, and the party is more splintered than ever on how to appropriately handle a candidate as crazy and unpredictable as Donald Trump – someone who represents everything party insiders cautioned against after the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections – without losing the constituencies that led to their positions in Washington in the first place. It’s a tough line to walk.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.