With less than 90 days until the November election, Senate Republicans are starting to worry as polls continue to show President Donald Trump becoming more unpopular by the hour and Joe Biden widening his lead in battleground states.
Fearing that he may lose his Senate Majority Leader post, Sen. Mitch McConnell told Senate candidates to do whatever it takes to salvage their campaigns ahead of what Republicans increasingly see as a devastating election for their party, CNN reports.
McConnell in recent weeks has become so concerned over Republicans losing control of the Senate that he has signaled to vulnerable GOP senators in tough races that they could distance themselves from the President if they feel it is necessary, according to multiple senior Republicans including a source close to McConnell.
That could mean breaking with Trump on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the continued efforts by the President to paint an optimistic picture despite rising cases and deaths across parts of the country, especially in many Republican states in the South and Midwest.
While this may give some senators the flexibility to draw a distinction between themselves and the President, it also forces them to walk a tightrope. Trump has a cult following with the Republican base, and any attempts to undercut him risks alienating those voters.
“These vulnerable senators can’t afford to explicitly repudiate Trump,” said one senior Republican on Capitol Hill. “They just need to show they are independent on issues important in their states.”
Republicans currently hold a three-seat majority and at least six incumbent senators who face serious Democratic challengers.
The most vulnerable are Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado. Despite polls showing a tight race in Maine, GOP sources in recent weeks have sounded more optimistic about Sen. Susan Collins, long a target of Democrats and liberal interest groups.
Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Steve Daines of Montana are also of concern. While some Republicans believe they are both in good shape, other GOP sources tell CNN those races are exceedingly tight and that both candidates’ fortunes may ultimately depend on how Trump does on Election Day in both states.
However, CNN notes, “the size of a net defeat for the GOP matters. Even if they lose control of the majority, Senate Republicans can effectively play defense against Democratic legislation with a large enough minority and a handful of moderate Democratic defectors. But if GOP losses in the Senate are too great, their ability to use the filibuster to force a supermajority vote to proceed on legislation will be rendered meaningless.”