Vulnerable House Republicans are losing their patience with President Trump’s crisis-plagued White House, concerned that the constant chaos will cost them re-election in 2018.
Trump’s popularity with Republican voters broadly hasn’t translated to their competitive districts, some of which he won but 23 of which he lost to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Republicans only have a 24-seat House majority.
The crises that have erupted have only compounded the pressure Republicans are under in these swing seats, leaving them and the GOP majority more vulnerable to a Democratic takeover next year.
Already under siege for supporting Trump’s bill to partially repeal Obamacare, targeted Republicans are ready to wash their hands of the White House and move on if Trump doesn’t bring his presidency under control.
“He didn’t win their districts and he’s currently sitting in the 30s,” said a Republican strategist involved in competitive House races, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. “They’ve been trying to manage the situation but they’re fed up.”
“The toll of this daily dose of scandal and of controversy is really tough,” said Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose South Florida district voted for Clinton over Trump by 16 percentage points. “It’s something that doesn’t make me proud of our country.”
The past seven days has seen Trump on defense for self-inflicted wounds that have engulfed the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill. It began with the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, which was badly mishandled.
Next came revelations that Trump shared classified intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting, followed by a bombshell that the president might have pressured Comey months earlier to kill the federal investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to take over the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections that could implicate Trump and his campaign. Republicans facing tough re-elections next year were expected to applaud the move.
The midterm elections are still 18 months away. But Trump’s rapid succession of missteps has made vulnerable Republicans anxious that the president is on the verge of triggering a Democratic tsunami that could sweep them out of office.
Even Republicans from districts Trump won are hedging, and beginning to emphasize their independence from the president.
“I’ve always been bipartisan,” said Republican Rep. Fred Upton, whose Michigan district delivered 51.3 percent of its vote to Trump.
“I can point to lots of examples where I was with [former President Barack] Obama and where I’m against Trump,” he added. “I spoke against the Muslim [ban,] I’m for real immigration reform. His budget stuff … cutting money for the Great Lakes and [National Institutes of Health] — nonstarters.”
Trump’s approval rating nationally is an anemic 40 percent in the RealClearPolitics average. It tends to be over 50 percent in solid Republican districts. But in the swing seats that will determine the fate of the GOP’s House majority, Trump is doing even worse than he is nationally, say sources who periodically review private polling.
Democrats lead the generic congressional ballot by 7 percentage points.
Swing seat Republicans have been trying to manage the tension between loyalty to the president and a GOP legislative agenda they are generally on board with, and fidelity to the voters in their district, many of whom oppose conservative policies, such as repealing Obama’s health care law.
But the eruptions out of the White House — unforced errors by Trump — are making it harder for them to walk that line. It’s harder to explain a tough vote on…