Politics

When Trump's Electoral Magic Fades

After Alabama, the risks of opposing the president are minimal for Republicans. Plus, your morning links.

Election night was a long time ago.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The day after Alabama, Donald Trump is now the president in the most danger of losing renomination since Jimmy Carter in 1979. 

Senator-Elect Jones: Alabama Took the 'Right Road'

He's in this position despite campaigning against Roy Moore in the Republican primary, correctly saying that Moore would be a bad general election candidate. Then, the scandal that engulfed Moore after his nomination left Trump with no good choices. One can argue Trump made the decision that was best for his party and even his presidency. 

But obviously none of it worked, and that fact alone will cause his party to start asking existential questions. How many Republicans in Congress and elsewhere are wondering this morning just how bad November 2018 is going to be? How many are asking the same question about November 2020? And is there anything they can do about it?

Look at the state of Trump's presidency. His unpopularity stands at record levels at this point in an administration. Women accusing him of sexual assault and harassment have launched a new push against him. Republicans who have witnessed several indictments can't possibly agree with Trump that the Russia investigation is hogwash. I'd be surprised if very many of them believe Trump's denials of what the women are saying about him, either. 

One of the major assets of any new president is the belief that he has some sort of electoral magic. Trump, who shocked the world with his 2016 victory, had more than most. It's surely dissipated by now. 

What else? His White House, never particularly functional at the best of times, is already losing deputy national security advisor Dina Powell in the new year, and it's likely she won't be the only one. We don't know how long White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will last. Over in the executive branch, rumors still have Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about to leave, and others could follow. All this is happening just as confirming executive branch nominees just got harder (with the party's Senate margin shrinking to 51-49). And finding replacements may be difficult, given the president's reputation, his lack of popularity, and the increasingly difficult path to any policy success. It also doesn't help that Trump doesn't appear to have many friends in Washington. 

So, yes, two things are increasingly likely. Party actors at all levels are going to contemplate whether they might be better off with another nominee in 2020, and some of them might even start imagining the benefits of Trump exiting even sooner than that. Potential primary challengers are going to inch closer to running. After all, the Iowa Caucuses are about two years away. A dozen or so Democrats will be openly running for president by this time next year. Every potential Trump challenger from within the Republican party is going to worry that waiting could allow someone else to jump in and lock up support.

I've argued all year that the risks of opposing Trump are minimal for Republicans. After Alabama, more and more Republicans are going to believe that. 

A serious nomination challenge still requires a serious challenger, and while I think some challenger is now likely it's far from clear that a real threat will emerge. Nor is it clear that a top-ranked challenger would do better than Ted Kennedy against Carter in 1980 or Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford in 1976, both of whom fell short. Then again? Trump still has two more years to disqualify himself from re-nomination. I wouldn't bet that he won't manage it.

 

1. I strongly agree with how Dave Hopkins at the Monkey Cage frames what happened within the Republican Party in Alabama

2. I can't agree with Julia Azari that Alabama was a case of "weak parties." But you should definitely read and understand her perspective. 

3. Also at the Monkey Cage: Anna Grzymala-Busse on a new prime minister in Poland

4. Thomas Wright on a national security strategy centered on containing the threat from the U.S. president. Very good. Could have had more about the need for flattering him more, and I really dislike using "establishment" when he really just means "sensible people who know anything at all about national security and foreign policy."

5. And Jonathan Chait on all the loopholes in the Republican tax bill. Seriously, tax lawyers are going to be such big winners from this thing. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Mike Nizza at mnizza3@bloomberg.net

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