It’s make or break time for the Republican Party. Its ticket leader, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, is now so far behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the polls that no candidate in the last 16 elections has lagged at this point in the race and still won the White House in November. Does the party keep pushing for a win at the top, or does it regroup and focus down ballot in the hopes of keeping the Senate and House?
If you ask a number of Republican strategists, the answer is give congressional candidates the money.
More than 70 GOP leaders sent a letter to the chairman of the Republican National Committee declaring that Trump is a lost cause, and that the party needs to withhold any financial support for his presidential campaign and help them in their own races, instead.
“We believe that Donald Trump’s divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide, and only the immediate shift of all available RNC resources to vulnerable Senate and House races will prevent the GOP from drowning with a Trump-emblazoned anchor around its neck,” the letter reads, according to Politico. “This should not be a difficult decision, as Donald Trump’s chances of being elected president are evaporating by the day.”
None of the signatories of the letter are currently seated congressmembers, but almost a third are former RNC staffers, making the plea the largest in-party anti-Trump effort yet, and follows shortly after another open letter from 50 former national security officers who publicly agreed that electing Trump president “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
The GOP has a right to be concerned. Over the last week the idea of Republicans losing control of the House — yes, even despite massive gerrymandering after the 2010 elections — has moved from being a scare tactic for GOP fundraising to a terrifying reality for many on the right.
“Polls say several Republican Senate and House seats that had been safe aren’t so safe anymore as an anti-Trump vote is trickling down to other races. The GOP may not only lose its majority control of Congress, but could also lose seats it’s held for generations,” columnist Jake Novak writes at CNBC.com. “Make no mistake, reversing this dangerous trend for Congressional Republicans is the No. 1 priority for the GOP right now and the party is very close to the ‘couldn’t care less’ mode when it comes to Trump’s chances to win in November.”
The RNC is continuing to stand by its presidential candidate, saying it won’t make a decision about support and spending until fall. However, some outlets are reporting that the decision is just the party’s public stance, in order to argue they did everything they could to help Trump win so no blame falls on them in his inevitable loss. Behind the scenes, they are as worried as those who signed the letter.
“Sean Spicer, the RNC’s top strategist, on Wednesday made that case to 14 political reporters he convened at the organization’s Capitol Hill headquarters for an off-the-record conversation about the election,” reports Politico, who was not at the actual meeting. “According to several people who attended, Spicer spent much of the session detailing all the RNC resources that have been deployed to swing states and how the party’s infrastructure is stronger than it has ever been.”
Meanwhile, billionaire PAC funders are investing heavily in the down ticket races and ignoring the presidential campaign, allowing the RNC to financially continue to support Trump until they can safely back out and throw their hands up in defeat without angering the small portion of the party who actually believes Trump should be president.
As the final leg of the election cycle kicks off after Labor Day weekend, the RNC will likely need to make a final decision: spend the funds and endanger the House and Senate majorities, or cut Trump off financially, a move that essentially admits that the GOP is completely broken. Either way, the party will likely feel the repercussions for cycles to come.