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Notes on Trump and the Political Zero-sum Game He’s Subjecting His Party To

On Monday, we discussed the curious case of Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and the Republican Party that’s ditched him. Today we need to talk a little more about the person who’s leading the party now, and where he seems to be taking the party. Is President Donald Trump making sure they keep “winning, winning, winning”, or is he guaranteeing they lose it all this November?

When it comes to internal Republican politics, Trump wins
Photo by Andrew Davey

Once upon a time, Brian Sandoval represented a significant force within the Nevada Republican Party and a respected wing of the national Republican Party. But these days, the national and state party have mostly abandoned him and his wing as Trump has taken them in a starkly different direction on a wide range of issues, from immigration and the environment to foreign policy and world trade.

As a result, Trumpism has become the key to winning a Republican primary. Just yesterday, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) came from far behind to win the Gubernatorial primary in a landslide over local establishment favorite Lt. Governor Casey Cagle (R) by using Cagle’s own words to cast doubt on his loyalty to Trump. In Michigan, Trump-endorsed Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) looks likely to beat Lt. Governor Brian Calley (R) despite outgoing Governor Rick Snyder (R) and the local business establishment coalescing behind Calley over Schuette. And right here in Nevada, Adam Laxalt won his primary by running as far away from Sandoval as possible while fully embracing Trump.

It’s become an increasingly common sight across the nation: Republican candidates run on Trump’s platform of “economic anxiety”, even if that means alienating local Republican “party elders”. The new guard then beats the old establishment, then rides that wave of “anxiety” to victory in the fall… Right?

When it comes to the general electorate, Trumpism loses
Photo by Andrew Davey

Not so fast. Even as Trump-backed candidates dominate in Republican primaries across the nation, they’re having a harder time running against Democrats in a general election environment. For the past eighteen months, we’ve witnessed Democrats overperforming in special elections across the country. Whether it’s Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pennsylvania) winning an exurban Pittsburgh district that had been drifting away from Democrats for nearly two decades or Hilal Tipirneni (D-Arizona) coming painfully close to her own upset in a suburban Phoenix seat where the GOP has always dominated, Republicans are struggling just to hold onto territory where they should be running up the score.

Yesterday, we dove into the new Latino Decisions poll that shows Democrats leading in the nation’s hottest battleground districts. Today, we saw further confirmation with a new Quinnipiac poll that shows Democrats holding a 51-39% lead over Republicans in the national Congressional vote. And when we zoom out to the larger picture, it becomes even bleaker for Republicans and their chance at keeping their Congressional majorities.

Why is this happening? Look at Donald Trump. Not only is he unpopular, but so is his agenda. Whether it’s immigration, the environment, health care, or foreign policy, his views are very out of step with those of most of the country. So as Republican candidates align themselves with Trump, they alienate themselves from most of their constituents. Though I’m usually not a fan of the idea of “zero-sum game”, it very much describes the dilemma Republicans face when it comes to their relationship with Trump.

As Trump’s winning, who’s losing?
Photo by Andrew Davey

This week, NV-03 candidate Danny Tarkanian (R) has been on a rampage against Susie Lee (D) as he’s trying to attach her to an international criminal gang and the growing grassroots movement to abolish ICE. Meanwhile, Senator Dean Heller (R) mocked a constituent’s concerns over immigrant family detention as “DNC talking points” and Adam Laxalt has kept mum over Sandoval’s refusal to endorse him. Are these all coincidences, accidents, or possibly signs of something deeper?

I normally don’t say this, but in this case it definitely applies: The optics don’t look good. And by optics, I mean Donald Trump and his ugly poll numbers. In a zero-sum game, someone has to lose. If Trump insists on winning, he may end up placing his party on the losing end of this game.

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