Home Politics Elections Election 2018 OPINION: Do Republicans really need Trump’s support?

OPINION: Do Republicans really need Trump’s support?

5 min read
Trump at a campaign rally in Arizona.

Opinion writer Stephen Sponhour analyzed the mid-term results and came to the conclusion: Trump’s endorsement may not be the key to victory he thinks it is. 

He certainly seems to want them to think so, but midterm results tell a different story. With election results varying across the country, at least one thing is certain — it takes more than presidential clout to win a midterm.

Republican Katie Arrington seemed like a shoe-in for South Carolina’s 94th congressional district. After a presidential endorsement carried her to victory in the primary against the incumbent, former governor Mark Sanford, Arrington’s path to Congress seemed unstoppable.

Until she lost. To a Democrat. In a deeply, deeply red state.

How could a Trump sweetheart lose to a Democrat in one of the most conservative states in the U.S.? She made the deadly mistake of prioritizing national politics over the needs of her district.

It is very common for a president’s agenda to be at odds with the voters in a specific locale. The Arrington campaign picked the wrong side of this conflict, supporting Trump’s offshore drilling in a coastal district that did not want to see oil rigs off its beaches.

By aligning herself so tightly with Trump, the GOP firebrand forced herself into an impossible position: either break with Trump and risk losing his support, or go against the will of her district by supporting the wildly unpopular drilling.

Very few active midterm voters care more about the president’s agenda than they do the community in which they live, and Arrington was one of many conservative candidates to learn this the hard way.

In New Jersey, Republican Tom MacArthur made the same mistake, but with health care. Although the district by-and-large did not support his position of taking away health coverage, he chose to toe the party line. He lost a seat that been held by Republicans for decades.

When Jim Renacci lost his Senate race to Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Trump’s endorsement was not enough to convince Ohio laborers that Renacci’s policy proposals were in their best interest, despite the state overwhelmingly voting for Trump in 2016.

Martha McSally, one of Trump’s heaviest endorsements, also lost her race to represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate. In what many analysts knew would be a tight election, GOP strategists believed that a presidential endorsement would carry their candidate over the electoral hump.

The president’s attacks on the late popular Arizona Senator John McCain, paired with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s common-ground approach, resulted in yet another defeat for a White House-backed candidate.

Basically, if you’re planning on running in any GOP primaries, a Trump endorsement will help. Just don’t expect it to carry you through a general election based on the clout alone — not every voter thinks in terms in national politics.

Plenty of Republicans will stop toeing the party line if it actively hurts them, regardless of how rabid some extreme supporters can be. Going forward, GOP candidates will have to perfect the balance between staying on the good side of both their president and serving their constituents.

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