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A.B. Stoddard: Will Trump and MAGA Candidates Slow the Red Wave?

There are “Republicans for Kelly” backing the incumbent Democratic senator in Arizona and Republicans supporting Attorney General Josh Shapiro in his gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania. While Democrats can hardly believe the love – and money – directed from across the aisle inside the GOP, they know who to thank and where to send the fruit basket. Straight to Mar-A-Lago, where the headquarters of former President Donald Trump has been churning out endorsements of kooky and unelectable candidates since he lost a second term.

Republicans are now panicked that what was once a dream election year could end up a nightmare. A recent report in Axios described GOP anxiety this way: “Top Republicans, once confident about winning control of the Senate in the midterms, fear they’ll blow it after nominating several deeply flawed candidates in winnable states, according to conversations with GOP strategists, pollsters and other officials.” The Senate candidates they are most worried about are Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia, J.D. Vance in Ohio, Blake Masters in Arizona, and Eric Greitens in Missouri.

Oz is trailing Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Pennsylvania in every poll. In Georgia, the new center of the political universe, Trump backed Walker, the football legend, before he entered the race. Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants knew Walker was loaded down with baggage but the Senate Republican leader ultimately backed him too. Walker now admits to fathering three previously secret children, and polls show while Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is well ahead of Stacey Abrams in their rematch, Sen. Raphael Warnock is running ahead of Walker in several recent surveys.

In Arizona, home to the Cyber Ninjas audit that failed to turn up the voter fraud Trump promised, Blake Masters is not only a 2020 election denier but has questioned whether his own Senate race will be rigged in November. He backs the “Great Replacement Theory,” claiming that Democrats want to use immigration to “change the demographics of our country.” He has also said most of our gun violence is attributable to “Very often, you know, black people, frankly.” Masters, funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, is ahead in the primary race that will be decided Aug. 2. He is perfectly in step with gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a Trump candidate who is so extreme that both Gov. Doug Ducey and Vice President Mike Pence are backing her opponent. Closely following instructions from the MAGA manual, Lake has also implied that cheating could prevent her victory in the primary contest.

In Ohio, a red state Trump easily carried twice, another Trump-and-Thiel man is lagging behind while struggling to raise funds. J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” scored an upset victory with a plurality in the primary but faces resistance from some of the majority of Republican primary voters who chose someone else. While Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan has outraised Vance and is polling ahead of him, Vance has run no television ads, is working to pay off campaign debt, and turned up this week at a CPAC conference in Israel – hardly the picture of an aggressive campaigner working to mitigate his liabilities.

Moderate Maryland Republican Kelly Schulz had a fighting chance in the general election, but Trump-backed extremist Dan Cox prevailed in the GOP primary this week, prompting incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan to announce he could not support his party’s nominee. Cook Political Report moved the race from “Likely Democrat” to “Solid Democrat.”

Besides the crop of losers Trump is foisting on the party, there is Trump himself. Since telling aides last August he wanted to announce another presidential campaign, he is itching to make it official. Republicans are dreading the impact he could have on the midterms, driving up turnout among Democrats and turning what should be a referendum on Biden into another anti-Trump bacchanalia. Should Trump declare his candidacy in September, as most assume, every GOP candidate will be forced to respond to questions about their support for him in the primary, all that the Jan. 6 hearings have revealed, and investigations he faces in Georgia and New York and perhaps at the Department of Justice. “Of all the selfish things he does every minute of every day, it would probably be the most,” a prominent GOP strategist told the Washington Post about a Trump announcement before the midterm elections.

In addition to contending with a new Trump candidacy before November, Republicans are facing a potential crisis in Missouri, waiting to see if Trump will endorse former Gov. Eric Greitens in the state’s Aug. 2 primary. The idea of Greitens winning the nomination is so frightening that former Sen. John Danforth convinced Republican John Wood to run as an independent, and a group of GOP donors formed the Show Me Values PAC to try to stop him. Sheena Greitens has accused her former husband of physical violence toward her and her children and stated in an affidavit, “I became afraid for my safety and that of our children due to Eric’s unstable and coercive behavior.” Greitens resigned in scandal in 2018 after admitting to an affair in which he tied up a woman in his basement and photographed her without her consent, after which she accused him of blackmail.

Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., whose fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle is Greitens’ national campaign chair, recently went hunting with Greitens; and Trump recently trashed another candidate in the race who was backed by home state GOP senator Josh Hawley. Republicans are hoping Trump will endorse state attorney general Eric Schmitt or Rep. Billy Long instead of Greitens, but they’re bracing for the worst.

Republicans see the same polls showing increased voter enthusiasm for Democrats since Roe v. Wade was overturned. If that remains or increases, then many races could be decided on the margins and deficient candidates won’t have a wave to wash them over the finish line.

No matter what, though, Republicans will have Trump. A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. This piece originally ran at RealClearPolitics.



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