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 TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid 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 CollinsGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate 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 KavanaughGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate Fox's Napolitano: Supreme Court confirmation hearings will be 'World War III of political battles' 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 GoreCruz says Senate Republicans likely have votes to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee 4 inconclusive Electoral College results that challenged our democracy Fox's Napolitano: 2000 election will look like 'child's play' compared to 2020 legal battles MORE and her fellow Senator, Joe Lieberman. And she was with him again four years later against John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Warning signs flash for Trump on debates Divided country, divided church TV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month MORE and John Edwards, both Senate colleagues. And in 2008 she was co-chairwoman of the McCain campaign in Maine — against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTwitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias Donald Trump delivers promise for less interventions in foreign policy Rush Limbaugh encourages Senate to skip hearings for Trump's SCOTUS nominee MORE and Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally Special counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report MORE, with both of whom she’d served.

Some of the other breaks are easy. Even Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ky.) advocates wearing masks during the pandemic, something the president largely resists.

Then there's Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Fox's Napolitano: Supreme Court confirmation hearings will be 'World War III of political battles' Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee 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 ChabotLawmakers call for expanded AI role in education, business to remain competitive The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden couldn't be more different on climate change MORE and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisHouse passes legislation to boost election security research House Republicans investigating California secretary of state's contract with Biden-linked firm House Democrats' campaign arm releases ads hitting 10 Republicans on health care 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. FitzpatrickFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program 2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do 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 CheneyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups | Kudlow: 'No sector worse hurt than energy' during pandemic | Trump pledges 'no politics' in Pebble Mine review Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups  Press: The big no-show at the RNC 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.