Trump campaign woos skeptical Republicans: We can help GOP win Senate

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Senior Trump campaign adviser Susie Wiles is making a pitch to skeptical Senate Republicans that former President Trump will boost their candidates, disputing the long-reigning Washington wisdom that Trump is a liability for Republicans in Senate battlegrounds.

Wiles highlighted polling data in a meeting with Senate Republicans this week showing Trump leading President Biden in several states that will decide future control of the Senate: Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states that Biden won in 2020.

In several battlegrounds, Trump is polling more favorably than the Senate Republican candidate, despite fears voiced by Senate Republicans earlier in the cycle that Trump would not be competitive in the 2024 general election.

One of Trump’s early skeptics, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), sounded much more positive about Trump’s chances of winning and having coattails in Senate races after hearing from Wiles.

“It sounds like he’s in pretty good shape, obviously you don’t take anything for granted. Particularly the battleground states where he is running strongest are very good for our chances of picking up the Senate,” Cornyn said after Wiles briefed GOP senators at their annual retreat at the Library of Congress.

Senate Democrats now hold a 51-49 majority and they’re expected to lose the seat held by retiring Sen. Joe Manchin (D) in deep-red West Virginia. 

This means Republicans need to pick up only one more seat to win back control of the Senate unless they capture the White House in November, in which case they would control a 50-50 Senate because of the vice president’s power to break tie votes.

Cornyn used his smart phone to pull up a list of polling results in Senate battlegrounds that show Trump beating Biden in states where Republicans are hoping to pick up Democratic-held seats.

“Arizona … Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin,” Cornyn said. “He’s up in each of those states.

Then Cornyn ticked through the polling averages in those states compiled by Real Clear Politics.

A review Thursday evening of the latest polling averages on Real Clear Politics, showed Trump leading Biden by an average of 5.2 percentage points in Arizona, by 3.5 points in Michigan, 21.5 points in Montana, 10 points in Ohio, 5.6 points in Nevada, two-thirds of a point in Pennsylvania and 1 point in Wisconsin.

Democratic senators hold seats in Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I) and Debbie Stabenow (D) are retiring in Arizona and Michigan, giving Republicans easier pick-up opportunities in those states.

“So it’s encouraging,” Cornyn said.

It’s a more optimistic view than what Cornyn expressed last year when he questioned Trump’s ability to appeal to moderate and swing voters enough to win a general election.

Cornyn told Texas reporters in May that “Trump’s time has passed him by.”

“I think what’s the most important thing for me is that we have a candidate who can actually win,” he said.

“I don’t think President Trump understands that when you run in a general election, you have to appeal to voters beyond your base,” he said at the time.

Flash forward to 2024, and those calculations appear to have changed. In the interim, Trump swept aside his competition to become the presumed GOP presidential nominee. Cornyn is also now running to be the next Senate GOP leader.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is leaving his leadership post after this Congress, blamed the net loss of a Republican Senate seat in the 2022 midterm election to the “chaos” and “negativity” that he and many of his colleagues thought Trump had brought to the national political scene after losing the 2020 presidential election.

“Here’s the problem, we underperformed among voters who did not like President Biden’s performance, among independents and among moderate Republicans, who looked at us and concluded [there was] too much chaos, too much negativity and we turned off a lot of these centrist voters,” McConnell told reporters after Senate Republicans came away disappointed from the 2022 election.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who attended the retreat where GOP senators heard the encouraging progress report from Trump’s campaign, said opinions about Trump’s political viability are changing within his conference.

“In all the states where we have overlays, he’s actually doing a little better than our Senate candidates so that’s good,” he said of the Senate battleground states where Trump is beating Biden in the polls.

A Senate Republican strategist said Trump’s poll numbers are undermining the long-held conventional wisdom among some Republicans that Trump would be kryptonite for their hopes of taking back the Senate if he stands atop the ballot in 2024.

“I think those numbers are accurate,” the strategist said of Trump’s strong polls in Senate battlegrounds. “I’ve always thought the conventional wisdom on that’s always been wrong.

“If anything, especially in Rust Belt states, Trump actually has a unique hold on voters that traditional Republicans wouldn’t — especially in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin,” the source said.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said Trump will be able to rev up Republican voters in certain areas of the country.

“These states are like fingerprints, they’re all very different. I think he’s super helpful in several states and probably a push in other ones,” said Tillis, who added that Trump helped with Republican turnout in his own 2020 Senate re-election race.

“The Democrats have a real turnout problem. They do not have an enthusiastic base and one thing President Trump does is enthuse the base,” he added. “If that gets turnout on our side, that’s all good.”

Even though the optimism about Trump’s political appeal is growing among GOP senators, some remain skeptical.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who endorsed Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary and won’t vote for Trump, said that the former president still turns off many voters, even while he may drive people to the polls in some states.

“I think that there are probably places in America where Trump’s endorsement and Trump’s influence can make a difference but I think it also matters the candidate that he will be backing,” she said. “Even if you’re in a state that is a heavily red state and very pro-Trump, if you have a bad candidate we can still lose.

“And I think there are some states where I think that Trump’s support or endorsement can actually work against the Republican candidate, particularly in those places where you’ve got women who are quite concerned about some of the reproductive health issues,” she said.

“I don’t think that we should make this blanket statement that his stamp of approval guarantees that victory,” she added. “I think we have kind of a tendency to just say, ‘if you’re a Republican and you get the endorsement of the Republican nominee, that’s all you need.’”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines (Mont.) has worked closely with Trump to steer his support to candidates that Senate Republican leaders view as the most electable in battleground states, such as Tim Sheehy in Montana and former Rep. Mike Rogers (R) in Michigan.

Another Republican senator who requested anonymity said Biden is facing the bigger political headwind and “that is the most significant wind in the race.”

But the lawmaker cautioned that Trump is a highly unpredictable candidate whose performance may turn out to be highly erratic as the 2024 campaign season unfolds.

“The polls have been terribly wrong in recent elections so I don’t put too much faith in polls. They mean something but this campaign still has a long way to go with a candidate who can do lots of things one wouldn’t expect,” the senator said. 

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