By Mike Lillis - 02/26/16 04:59 PM EST
Dem campaign chief on Trump: Damage has been done
The head of the congressional Democrats' campaign arm sees election-year gold in the rise of GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump aide: 'Hillary is the one who’s got a gender gap' Trump aide: Picking a woman or minority as VP would be 'pandering' Trump adviser: He will 'soften' on Muslim ban MORE.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), says Trump's success on the presidential trail can only help down-ballot Democrats at the polls in November — regardless of whether the real estate mogul wins the Republican nomination.
"Donald Trump has shifted the entire rhetoric with Republicans to the extreme right, and now Republicans are having to deal with that," Luján told The Hill on Friday. "Whether Donald Trump becomes the eventual nominee or not, the damage has been done."
Trump has soared to the top of the Republican primary field with a brash, no-apologies strategy that's resonated with parts of the GOP base and pushed the more establishment candidates — including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — out of the race.
The aggressive approach has paid early dividends; Trump has run away with the primary contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. And polls indicate he holds a commanding lead in most of the Southern states set to hold Super Tuesday primaries next week.
He got an additional boost Friday when he won Christie's endorsement.
But Trump's combative approach has stirred controversy. He's picked fights with high-profile media figures; lobbed vulgarities at other GOP contenders; endorsed a ban on all Muslims entering the country; urged the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants; and proposed building a wall the length of the southern border — and having Mexico pay for it.
The alienating effect of his message on large numbers of voters has left many Democratic leaders — who are fighting to retake the Senate and pick up House seats — practically drooling at the thought of having Trump atop the Republican ticket in November.
"We may be given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here," Vice President Biden told House Democrats last month.
Even some Republicans are warning of the negative impact a Trump nomination would have on the party.
"Donald Trump will be the gold standard for stupid Republican candidates," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump: Romney 'walks like a penguin' Romney should endorse Clinton Graham: I'm still not supporting Trump MORE (R-S.C.), a one-time presidential hopeful, told CNN on Thursday.
Still, Trump has so far defied all the predictions that his unconventional campaign will fade into the night. And GOP leaders on Capitol Hill increasingly seem to be bracing for a Trump nomination.
"He's got the momentum. I think there's more than a 50 percent chance he's the nominee," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told MSNBC on Monday.
"Yah, I think I can work with Donald Trump," he added.
Luján, for his part, said he's taking nothing for granted. Still, the DCCC chairman suggested a Trump nomination would make it easier for Democrats to draw distinctions between the parties when it comes to policy priorities and attracting voters.
"While he's going to talk about building walls, we're going to talk about building bridges," Luján said.
"The question … to Speaker [Paul] Ryan and to my counterpart at the [National Republican Congressional Committee]: How nervous are they about a Donald Trump candidacy, and what does that mean to their down-ballot races?
"Clearly, the Republican's polling shows that Donald Trump is not good for down-ballot races," Luján added. "Not only congressional races, but across the country."
Amid the interview, NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) happened to walk by in the Capitol hallway.
"None of this is true," Walden quipped. "Whatever he's telling you."