Republicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump

Senate Republicans who are up for reelection next year are sticking as close to President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE as possible, especially on his signature issue of illegal immigration and border security.

Even as some Senate Republicans broke with Trump over his emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border, most of those running for reelection next year backed Trump — a sign of their fear of Trump-fueled primary opponents.

Only one of the 12 Republicans who voted on Thursday for a Democratic-backed resolution overturning Trump’s emergency declaration is up for reelection next year: Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsAn ode to Joe Manchin's patriotism on his birthday Susan Collins challenger hit with ethics complaints over reimbursements Overnight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost MORE (R), who has a well-established reputation in Maine as an independent.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans running in other swing states who arguably might have benefited from distancing themselves from Trump, such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerHickenlooper day-old Senate bid faces pushback from progressives The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit MORE (Colo.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGabby Giffords participating in gun violence town hall in El Paso following mass shooting Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid MORE (Ariz.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Gun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (N.C.), stuck with him.

The tone was set early by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast MORE (R-Ky.).

The GOP leader, who is up for reelection, endorsed Trump’s national emergency declaration last month despite initially warning Trump against the move, according a Feb. 1 Washington Post report. 

GOP strategists said Republicans have little choice given the potency of the issue of border security with Trump’s base.

“I think what they’ve seen is the Republican base has been energized by the issue the last couple years and it’s not going away,” said Chip Saltsman, a Republican strategist. 

“This issue has really become a defining issue as you go into the next election cycle,” he added. “Donald Trump uses his bully pulpit very well, and he’s brought a lot of energy and focus on this issue, and they know he’s not going to stop talking about it.” 

The Senate also delivered a rebuke to Trump on Wednesday when seven Republicans voted to pass a resolution requiring the president to withdraw U.S. military support from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. 

Only two of the defectors in that vote are up for reelection next year: Collins and Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 5 takeaways from combative Democratic debate GOP senator introduces resolution to formally condemn socialism MORE (R-Mont.).

The issue of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, however, has less salience with the GOP base than Trump’s promises to build a border wall. 

A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70 percent of Republicans said they would be more likely to vote for a senator or representative who supports Trump’s national emergency declaration. 

“The reason why you had Gardner and Tillis do this is because they knew that the process/principle argument wasn’t going to fly with the Republican base when this is their No. 1 issue. They want execution, and they don’t care how you get it,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. 

O’Connell said Gardner and Tillis, who have two of the most competitive races next year, need to worry about fending off primary challenges and turning out conservative voters in the election, when Democratic turnout is expected to be high. 

“Even though they want to fend off primary challenges, this is also a situation where, in the general election, if they cross Trump on this issue, Trump could win their state and they could still lose,” he added. “In a lot of these races, it’s going to be two-point races, whether it’s Gardner or it’s Tillis.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseIt's time to empower military families with education freedom Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year The Hill's Morning Report - Trump lauds tariffs on China while backtracking from more MORE (R-Neb.) is in a slightly different position.

He’s not expected to face a difficult general election, but his repeated criticism of Trump’s conduct and policies has sparked talk of a possible primary challenge — if Sasse decides to run for another term. He said he will announce his decision this summer. 

“Obviously Sasse is more concerned about a primary challenge,” O’Connell said, noting that Trump won Nebraska by 20 points in 2016. Sasse describes himself as a “constitutional conservative” and warned in a statement to National Review magazine in February that Trump’s emergency border declaration undermined the Constitution’s separation of powers.  

He was seen as a likely vote in favor of the disapproval resolution, especially after several Senate GOP colleagues announced they would support it to preserve the Constitution’s separation of powers. 

Sasse announced Thursday that he voted no because he saw it is a “politically motivated resolution” crafted by Democrats to embarrass Trump. He also noted his support for legislation to require Congress to approve future national emergency declarations after 30 days. 

Trump emerged as a dominant force in Republican primaries in the 2018 midterm elections. Forty-nine of the 51 Republicans he endorsed in the 2018 primaries won their races, according to ABC News.   

Tillis reversed himself on supporting the disapproval resolution after coming under pressure from conservatives in North Carolina. 

He boldly voiced support for the resolution in a Feb. 25 Washington Post op-ed in which he warned that Trump’s use of the emergency declaration to secure more funding for border barriers would set a dangerous precedent that future Democratic presidents could exploit.

“Republicans need to realize that this will lead inevitably to regret when a Democrat once again controls the White House,” he wrote. 

But Tillis came under withering criticism from conservatives at home, such as Diane Parnell, the chairwoman of the Rockingham County Republican Party, who urged conservative Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerOn The Money: House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal | Dem court filing defends powers to get Trump's NY tax returns | Debt collectors to pay M to settle consumer bureau charges House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal Romney to vote against budget deal: Agreement 'perpetuates fiscal recklessness' MORE (R-N.C.) to challenge Tillis in next year’s Senate primary. 

“Trump has an approval rate of well over 80 percent among Republicans. That makes GOP Senators fear the President and worry that crossing him will lead to a primary challenger,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. 

“It is hard to vote against the President on anything he has labeled a high priority. Doing that could lead to a Trump tweet that enrages the conservative base and creates problems for Republican lawmakers,” he added.  

The one exception to the trend is Collins, but GOP strategists say she’s in a different category.

“Susan Collins has her own brand,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican strategist and pollster. McLaughlin said polling he’s seen of Republican voters in Maine shows she has strong support despite being a well-known moderate. 

McLaughlin said Trump’s influence is more potent in Republican primaries where the person he endorses is running against someone without a well-defined brand. 

Trump’s scored a coup in last year’s Florida gubernatorial primary when his endorsement helped then-Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida first lady to miss Women for Trump event due to planned execution Florida governor orders criminal investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein case Groups ask court to block ex-felon voting law in Florida MORE (R-Fla.) overcome a 15-point deficit to defeat Adam Putnam and win the GOP nomination. 

“Ron DeSantis — nobody knew who the heck the guy was. He got a couple tweets from the president and an endorsement, and the guy went from being down [big] to winning by a margin of nearly 2-to-1,” he said, citing DeSantis’s 56.5-point-to-36.5-point victory.