Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) got the attention of the mainstream media last week when he told the Washington Examiner to watch for Republican congressional candidates to move closer to President Trump as the election nears.
In a story about how Republicans have been reluctant to criticize the president of their own party for his role in the highly speculative Russia investigation, Corker told the paper Republicans can’t afford a war with Trump that depresses GOP turnout.
“The president is, as you know – you’ve seen his numbers among the Republican base – it’s very strong,” Corker said. “It’s more than strong, it’s tribal in nature.”
Corker went on to say friends out on the campaign trail have told him that “people don’t ask about issues anymore. They don’t care about issues. They want to know if you’re with Trump or not.”
The Daily Beast published a story suggesting Trump’s support among Republicans is not all that strong. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 85 percent, the story said.
But President George W. Bush’s was 98 at one point right after 9/11, and President George H.W. Bush had an 89 percent approval rating at the close of the Gulf War.
Of course, support collapsed for both, with H.W. failing to win re-election and the son losing Congress to the Democrats in 2006.
Then there’s Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, whose Monday piece on the Post website is entitled, “GOP candidates are now mimicking Trump’s authoritarianism. That’s ominous.”
“Republicans embroiled in tough primaries are increasingly emulating President Trump – by echoing his xenophobia, his veiled racist appeals, his attacks on the news media and even occasionally his calls for imprisoning his political opponents,” Sargent wrote.
“So how long until multiple GOP primary candidates begin seriously running on the message that the Mueller probe is part of an illegitimate Deep State coup that justifies Trump shutting it down by any means necessary – that is, on a message of unabashed authoritarianism?”
Sargent pointed to a U.S. Senate candidate in West Virginia, whose ad says, “We don’t need to investigate our president. We need to arrest Hillary … lock her up.”
He also pointed to Tennessee, where GOP Senate candidate Rep. Marsha Blackburn has promised to “stand with Trump ‘every step of the way to build that wall’ and even echoes Trump’s attacks on African American football players protesting systemic racism and police brutality: ‘I stand when the president walks in the room. And yes, I stand when I hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’’”
Other GOP candidates are using phrases such as “drain the swamp,” “build the wall,” “rigged system” and even “fake news.” Sargent reported.
What’s worse is it’s working. In Indiana, Sargent reports, all three Senate GOP candidates have “cast aspersions on the Mueller probe” – with one calling it a fishing expedition and another saying nothing had been turned up except that Hillary Clinton “is the real guilty party here.”
Moreover, the candidate most closely aligning himself with Trump’s policies, Mike Braun, has pulled ahead. “Braun’s ads basically recast true conservativism as Trumpism in its incarnation as populist anti-establishment ethno-nationalism,” Sargent wrote.
Which leads us to the “ominous” part.
“The question all this raises is whether there is a large swath of GOP primary voters who are fully prepared to march behind Trump into full-blown authoritarianism,” Sargent wrote. “The original plan was for Republicans to make tax cuts the centerpiece of their midterm campaign agenda. But in the Virginia gubernatorial race, the Republican candidate resorted to Trumpian xenophobia and a defense of Confederate statues to activate the GOP base.”
Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, shunned Trump. He didn’t even acknowledge the president’s endorsement and went out of his way to avoid mentioning Trump on the trail. Trump would tweet later that Gillespie “didn’t embrace me.”
Gillespie’s defeat may be part of why candidates are moving closer to Trump.