Wednesday 24 January 2018

Trump is tearing the GOP apart - and Republicans should be very worried

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were both attacked by Trump on Twitter. Photo: AP
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were both attacked by Trump on Twitter. Photo: AP

Aaron Blake

US President Donald Trump is now openly attacking the GOP leaders of both the House and the Senate.

In tweets on Thursday morning, he blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for having “failed” to replace Obamacare, and he said both Mr McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan created the current debt ceiling “mess” by using the wrong tactics.

“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy – now a mess!

“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed! That should NEVER have happened!”

The tweets lay bare tensions that both the White House and Mr McConnell’s office have sought to play down in recent days, after an extensive ‘New York Times’ piece detailed a strained relationship between the president and the GOP Senate leader, including Mr Trump berating Mr McConnell in a phone call two weeks ago.

Although Mr Trump has been known to attack pretty much anybody and this could just as soon blow over, the tweets suggest a looming showdown between Mr Trump and his own party in Congress if it doesn’t deliver on his agenda to his satisfaction. Congressional Republicans should be very worried. Mr Trump could tear them apart – and he’s already starting to do so.

Despite Mr Trump’s broad and unprecedented unpopularity early in his presidency, he retains a pretty strong hold on his base, with around 75 to 80pc still approving of him. There are signs his hold on that base is cracking, but the vast majority of Republicans remain loyal and are following Mr Trump’s lead.

What’s more, a growing body of polling evidence suggests real peril in Republicans being seen as failing or undermining Mr Trump.

A new George Washington University poll released shortly before Mr Trump’s tweets showed 59pc of Republicans say their member of Congress has not been “supportive enough” of the president. Another 29pc say their support has been “about right”, and just 4pc – one in 25 Republicans – say their member has been “too supportive”.

Many of these Republican voters, of course, come from districts held by Democrats, which would explain a large chunk of the “not supportive enough” group. But it’s clear there is significantly more concern about a lack of support for Mr Trump than too much support.

In that way, Mr Trump is already tilling fertile soil by attacking the likes of Mr McConnell, Mr Ryan and senators Jeff Flake and Dean Heller. A strong majority of the GOP base thinks their party hasn’t done enough to help Mr Trump, and now Mr Trump is blasting that message far and wide.

That holds true for specific senators as well as the party. The limited polling we have on individual members suggest those who have tangled with Mr Trump have paid a steep price in their personal image ratings.

A poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) this month showed a grim state of affairs for Mr Heller, who initially opposed the GOP health care bill and drew Mr Trump’s ire before eventually supporting a later version. The poll showed him with a brutal 22pc approval rating in Nevada, compared to 55pc who disapproved.

Ditto the other vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election in 2018, Mr Flake, a more vocal Trump critic than Mr Heller. Around the same time, PPP had him at just 18pc approval in Arizona versus 62pc disapproval. Again, brutal. The reason? Trump voters are almost completely deserting him, with just 22pc approving of him and 63pc disapproving.

PPP has also now released data on Mr McConnell, whom Mr Trump has been needling for weeks. His ratings have plummeted thanks to Trump voters, too. Fully 66pc of Trump voters say they disapprove of him, driving up his overall disapproval rating to 74pc. Just 18pc approve.

If those numbers are even close to reality, it suggests Republicans are at significant risk of alienating the base if they don’t fall in line behind Mr Trump and/or succeed for him. Both Mr Flake and Mr Heller now face primary challenges, and seeing how those races poll going forward is going to be extremely telling.

Irish Independent

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