Dancing with no rhythm: Republican candidates resemble Elaine on Seinfeld

Dancing with no rhythm: Republican candidates resemble Elaine on Seinfeld
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Embattled Republicans, threatened to be caught in a Trump undertow this November, resemble Julia Louis Dreyfus’s “Seinfeld” character Elaine in the classic episode in which she awkwardly tries to dance without rhythm.

Republicans in competitive contests are fearful of a Democratic wave this November and are trying to strike some distance from Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE — subtly, and not too much.

That's the awkward part.

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Most don't want to alienate Trump’s hard-core conservative base — or independent-minded voters, who are mainly anti-Trump.

So, they're straddling and flailing — a la Elaine.

Maine's Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsProgressive Jewish group endorses Biden Poll: Gideon leads Collins by 8 points in Maine Senate race The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE is in political trouble after she voted for Trump's tax cuts and most of his judicial appointments, including Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughBiden hits back after Trump's attacks on Harris Trump and allies grapple with how to target Harris Joe Biden played it safe MORE. Earlier this month she said she wouldn't campaign against Joe Biden, as is her standard practice: “I do not campaign against my colleagues in the Senate.”

Except in 2000 she campaigned for George W. Bush running against Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreWillie Brown now pleased Harris accepted Biden offer after advising against it Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause Will Pence choose partisanship over statesmanship in counting ballots? MORE and her fellow Senator, Joe Lieberman. And she was with him again four years later against John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOcasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech Ron Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe The Memo: Biden faces balancing act MORE and John Edwards, both Senate colleagues. And in 2008 she was co-chairwoman of the McCain campaign in Maine — against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden, Harris tear into Trump in first joint appearance The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden, Harris's first day as running mates It's Harris — and we're not surprised MORE and Joe BidenJoe BidenRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE, with both of whom she’d served.

Some of the other breaks are easy. Even Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) advocates wearing masks during the pandemic, something the president largely resists.

Then there's Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (R-S.C.), facing his toughest challenge even in Republican South Carolina. He'll break one day over Trump's criticism of African American race car driver Bubba Wallace — then lavishly praise the president the next. It never takes long to yank Graham back into the fold.

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When the story broke about the Russians paying bounties to kill Americans in Afghanistan — and the president disregarding it — Graham insisted it was “imperative” to find out what happened.

Trump charged that it was fake news and that he never knew about it — although the New York Times reported it was in his Feb. 27 daily intelligence brief. Within several days he had reeled Graham back in: “You don't tell a President of the United States everything you would tell a second lieutenant," Graham told Fox News. Much worse, he suggested, was 2012 when four Americans were killed by terrorists in Benghanzi, and Barack Obama “was briefed and went to bed and never called anybody for a day and a half while our people were slaughtered.”

That's simply not true — contrary to every report, including the House Republicans’ special Benghazi Committee report, which states that as soon as Obama was first briefed (around 5 p.m.) on the attack, “The President made clear that we ought to use all of the resources at our disposal to try to make sure we did everything possible to try to save lives there.”

Most other threatened Republicans aren't as obvious.

Watch CNN's July 5 interview of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). Asked a direct question about Trump's mishandling of the pandemic, Ernst ducked, diverted, dissembled. It was more awkward than Elaine's dancing.

Defending Trump's botched handing of the pandemic is almost impossible — so diversion is necessary.

North Carolina's endangered incumbent Thom Tillis, who in the campaign six years ago savaged Barack Obama's handling of the crisis over Ebola, where only a couple Americans died, now struggles on questions about Trump and COVID-19, which has taken over 136,000 American lives.

So it's all China's fault; Tillis even markets “China lied” bumper stickers.

The Trump-supporting GOP senators in battleground contests all consistently vote with the president and then try to strike some distance. “In their campaign ads back home,” the Washington Post reported last week in an analysis, “it's as if the unpopular incumbent doesn't exist.”

It's different in House elections, where most Republicans represent solidly conservative and Trump-friendly districts — and where two fellow conservative incumbents were toppled by right-wing, staunchly pro-Trump challengers.

Even some of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents — like Ohio's Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotHouse Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections Bottom line The Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks MORE and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisWatchdog calls for probe into Gohmert 'disregarding public health guidance' on COVID-19 Massie plans to donate plasma after testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal MORE of Illinois — remain all the way with The Donald. That delights Democrats targeting them in the fall.

There are fewer than a handful of exceptions.

Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. Fitzpatrick2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Overnight Energy: House passes major conservation bill, sending to Trump | EPA finalizes rule to speed up review of industry permits MORE, representing Bucks County, Pennsylvania — a swing district carried narrowly by Obama and Trump — is one, and last month decisively defeated an all-in-for-Trump primary challenger.

In Omaha, Nebraska — another swing district — incumbent Republican Don Bacon, an Air Force veteran, took issue when Trump threatened to send in the military to deal with out of hand protests for racial justice. Explicitly, Bacon said he concurred with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who had just blasted the president on this score.

The best leading indicator may be Wyoming's Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP leaders go into attack mode against Harris Republicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker MORE, a staunch conservative from a safe district, and the daughter of Dick Cheney. She was outraged by the reports of Russians paying bounties to kill Americans and demanded to know what Trump knew or didn't know. She also pointedly tweeted a picture of her Dad wearing a mask, in pointed contrast to Trump.

Many Republicans see the 53-year-old three-term lawmaker as either a future Speaker or national candidate.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.