Down-ballot GOP can ride Trump’s coattails to donations
Moderate Republicans have been decrying Donald Trump’s nomination as not only dreadful for the nation, but also for the party in the upcoming election. While Trump’s candidacy may allow little hope for the country, there is a silver lining for the Republican Party; the dysfunction caused by its presidential candidate will improve the chances of its congressional candidates. In other words, Trump is good for his party because he is such a bad candidate.
This is because Trump will unwittingly free up funding traditionally reserved for the presidential race, giving a boost to candidates fighting elections for seats in Congress. Thus, the Republican Party will actually benefit from Trump’s inability to raise funds. Since Trump is so unpredictable, Republicans cannot feel secure knowing that he is the president, because he may not support the policies they do. They will be better off supporting congressional candidates with established beliefs and whom the party can at least somewhat control.
This is not to say that the Republican Party should surrender all hope of winning the presidency. Instead, Trump simply doesn’t need the party as much as presidential candidates have in years past. He gets a tremendous deal of media coverage simply by opening his mouth and, often, simply by promising to open his mouth. This means that Trump doesn’t need much funding for his campaign. The purpose of campaign funds, to make a candidate better known and to deride his opponent, is already accomplished by having Trump as the candidate. From immigration to trade, Trump and his views are widely known and his opponent’s misdeeds, whether it be with her email server or not doing enough to prevent the attacks in Benghazi, are well-documented.
Thus, the Republican Party can reduce spending on the presidential race without giving up on its candidate. This is fortunate, because the party may not have a choice, as more and more donors, like the Koch brothers, divert their money to congressional races — particularly Senate races. Sheldon Adelson, for example, recently donated $40 million to help Republicans in Senate elections, forgoing his earlier promise to donate $100 million to Trump’s campaign, as per a report in The New York Times. Since many current projections have the Republicans losing the Senate in November, this actually bodes well for the Republican Party.
By betting on multiple congressional races rather than frittering money away on one contest, Republicans are unwillingly making the smart decision, investing in contests influenced far more by money than presidential races are. This is because congressional candidates are generally not well-known, so advertisements can have more of an impact on voters’ thinking in these races. Moreover, the law of diminishing marginal returns suggests that since these contests see less total money, any money in the contest will be more effective. Thus, donors will see greater returns on their investments while assuming less risk, as they will have spread their money out over multiple contests. This has already been seen in the race for Senate in Ohio, where Republican Rob Portman has jumped out to a huge lead in polls over his opponent Ted Strickland thanks in large part to the increased funding he has received in this election cycle, according to The New York Times.
A Trump candidacy will therefore help the Republican Party preserve its hold on the Senate. The counter-argument goes that Trump will have a negative impact on voting down the ballot and will thus actually hurt candidates for congressional office. While Trump’s high “unfavorable” ratings — consistently over 50 percent in polling — would suggest that this would be the case, Hillary Clinton’s similarly high unfavorability ratings mean that Independents who don’t want to vote for the party of Trump also won’t want to vote for the party of Clinton, thus negating the impact of Trump’s unpopularity. The ability of a presidential candidate to impact votes in other contests may be exaggerated anyways, as the 2012 election showed that the electorate today is willing to split its ballot between the two parties.
So, with the lack of an insidious effect down the ballot and with a lesser need for funding, Trump gives the Republican Party the freedom to concentrate on congressional elections and protect its majorities in both houses of Congress. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, finds defeating Trump to be its utmost priority since it believes a Trump presidency will be unimaginably harmful to the country’s progress. This means that it will focus its funds on the presidential election in the coming months, providing a perfect opportunity for Republicans to win the close congressional contests.
That’s why another argument, that Trump will energize the Democratic base to donate more money, fails in this case, as Democrats will spend to defeat Trump, not congressional Republicans. Further, energizing the base will largely result in more small donations. Most money in congressional elections, on the other hand, comes from PACs and large donations from individuals. When the powerful Republican donors focus on Senate races while Democratic donors fixate on the presidential race, it will create a funding imbalance that will be hard to overcome for Democratic candidates.
Congress is supposed to be just as powerful as the Executive, and Republicans would be better off aiming to maintain that power in 2016, as they sort out how best to align the party’s two divergent economic interests: one populist and one demanding loose regulations and open trade.
Focusing too much on the presidency risks making the Republican Party nearly irrelevant in the federal government till 2018 and, more seriously, splintering its base. Trump allows the party to reflect and reset for future elections while still controlling Congress. Trump has used the Republican Party to promote himself; it’s time the party used him to protect its future.
The New York Times
The New York Times