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 TrumpWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Coronavirus hits defense contractor jobs Wake up America, your country doesn't value your life 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 CollinsGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package MORE (R), who has a well-established reputation in Maine as an independent.

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Republicans running in other swing states who arguably might have benefited from distancing themselves from Trump, such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRomney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Markets expected to plunge amid partisan squabbling MORE (Colo.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyNew bill would withhold pay from Senate until coronavirus stimulus package passes Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads Politics and the pandemic — Republicans are rightly worried MORE (Ariz.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate leaving DC until April 20 after coronavirus stimulus vote Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads MORE (N.C.), stuck with him.

The tone was set early by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Struggling states warn coronavirus stimulus falls short Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 DainesHow much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill McConnell says T bill is 'emergency relief' and not a 'stimulus' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election 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 SasseHouse Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus How much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill 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 WalkerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Top GOP post on Oversight draws stiff competition Freshman Dem finds voice in fight against online extremism 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 reporter says she was blocked from Gov. DeSantis's coronavirus press briefing CDC issues travel advisory for NY tri-state area after Trump says quarantine 'not necessary' Florida confirms over 500 new cases of coronavirus in the state 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.