After Donald Trump reportedly told donors it would be “tough” for Republicans to hold the Senate, and said he could not and did not want to help some senators, party chair Ronna McDaniel insisted the Senate would stay in GOP hands, saying: “I don’t see these senators distancing themselves from the president.”
In fact, as the party faces strong headwinds at the polls, senators including Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Martha McSally of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas have sought to put daylight between themselves and Trump.
Sasse predicted a “Senate bloodbath” and criticised Trump’s views and behaviour. McSally dodged opportunities to express support in a debate. Cornyn sought to portray himself as an independent thinker on policy.
Sasse is a shoo-in for re-election but McSally and Cornyn are in tight races.
“You know I don’t see these senators distancing themselves from the president,” McDaniel insisted on Fox News Sunday, before admitting: “I mean Ben Sasse is an exception, obviously.”
Asked about McSally’s answers to the question “Are you proud of your support for President Trump?” – repeating that she was “proud to be fighting for Arizona every single day” – McDaniel said: “She’s going to rallies with him and she’s all over the state with him. Martha McSally supports the president.”
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, while Trump trails Joe Biden by 2.6 points in Arizona, McSally is struggling in her battle with Mark Kelly, a former astronaut now a campaigner for gun control reform.
Other Republicans facing tough fights include Cory Gardner in Colorado, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Susan Collins in Maine and Joni Ernst in Iowa.
Most forecasters give Democrats a good chance of retaking the Senate, which Republicans hold 53-47. Trump insisted again on Sunday that his party could take back the House but that seems unlikely, Democratic control firm enough that Speaker Nancy Pelosi barely created a ripple with her confirmation to CNN’s State of the Union that at the age of 80 she will seek to stay in the role.
Corey Lewandowski, a Trump adviser, played down the president’s comments about the House but told NBC’s Meet the Press he had been “out aggressively campaigning for members of the US Senate” and had “asked his surrogates, including me, to go out and help.”
Trump’s comments, to donors in Nashville, Tennessee before this week’s debate with Biden, were reported by the Washington Post.
“I think the Senate is tough actually,” he said. “The Senate is very tough.”
He also said: “There are a couple senators I can’t really get involved in. I just can’t do it. You lose your soul if you do. I can’t help some of them. I don’t want to help some of them.”
McDaniel said Trump “has done more for the senators with what he’s done with helping the Win Red platform, with small-dollar online fundraising, with the ground game the RNC has put in place and all of these states. We want to keep the Senate.”
Lewandowski said the president had “helped raise money. He’s got a great partnership with Senate leader Mitch McConnell. They’ve raised money together, and we feel very, very strongly that we’re going to retain our majority in the US Senate.”
Frustrated by McConnell’s rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court, Democrats are considering structural reform to both the court and the Senate.
McDaniel said: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are not not hiding the fact they want to get rid of the filibuster” – the 60-vote threshold for new legislation – “and they want to fundamentally change the third branch of government [the court].
“This is a tight race, we know this, but the trend lines are good in these states. You’re seeing McSally gain momentum. You also didn’t mention candidates like John James [Michigan] and Jason Lewis [Minnesota], who are in competitive races against Democrat incumbents.
“So we’re gonna keep the Senate, we’re working hard to do that.”