The 2018 midterm election is setting up to be the biggest election since — well, the last election billed as the biggest election. The reason being that many see this election cycle as a test for President Donald Trump’s standing with the electorate more so than a set of regional contests with their own local narratives that happen to have national implications.
The biggest question being asked is whether the president’s increasing approval rate will translate to election coattails carrying congressional Republican candidates to victory.
It’s a valid question, especially in light of the Pennsylvania special election upset by Democrat Conor Lamb over Rick Saccone, which saw an area where Trump crushed Hillary Clinton turn blue in a little over a year.
It’s very easy to dismiss the strength or weakness of President Trump’s coattails when the national media fails to delve into the nuance of local elections while playing out the same pathology of insurgent versus establishment.
Yet, when you look at the 2018 congressional landscape, measuring presidential coat-tails looks more and more like an open question dependent upon which Republican ultimately appears on the ballot after primary season is over.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of three particular Republican primaries will go a long way in showing presidential coattails are not so easy to measure.
First, what happens when the insurgent and the establishment candidates look an awful lot alike? Take the primary challenge of perennial Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle against Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., in Nevada’s 2nd congressional district.
Angle had beaten Amodei in a statewide primary in 2010 when he obtained the nomination for U.S. Senate against then-Sen. Harry Reid. By and large, hailing from a district that President Trump carried by over a 12 percent margin.
Amodei has been a reliable supporter of President Trump’s agenda, voting in line with the President over 98 percent of the time. Angle has also been on record voicing her support for the president as well. So what’s a Trump supporter to do when both sides seemingly agree?
Personality may rule the day. That, or a presidential endorsement.
Second, what happens when a true insurgent challenges the face of the establishment that has been a necessary partner of the president? That is what is shaping up in Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district as political neophyte Nick Polce, an Army Green Beret whose first-time candidacy has drawn inspiration from President Trump’s win, challenges U.S. House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in another district that the president carried with a double-digit margin.
Another Republican challenger, Paul Nehlen, has been plagued by claims of anti-semitism. Trump’s biggest policy successes are necessarily linked to Paul Ryan, as are his biggest failures, but with news of Ryan’s disagreement with President Trump’s tariff policies of late, Polce, a clear longshot, may see an opening at home.
Given that Wisconsin Democrats are touting an internal poll indicating waning support for Ryan, it is not so unheard of to see an attempt at a push from the right by Polce that could catch lightning in a similar way that Congressman Dave Brat did in Virginia when he unseated Eric Cantor in 2014.
That is, unless President Trump lends his coattails to the head of the Republican congressional establishment, which could also frustrate ardent Trump supporters.
Finally, what happens when both the insurgent and the establishment can both leave a sour taste in the mouths of Trump voters? That’s what seems to be shaping up in New York’s 11th congressional district between former Congressman and convicted felon Michael Grimm and current Congressman Dan Donovan, R-N.Y.
Representing a district where President Trump won by less than 1 percent, Donovan has had his conservative bona fides called into question (the American Conservative Union rated him a "44") when he voted against President Trump’s landmark tax reform, was one of two New York Republicans in Congress to vote against legislation recognizing conceal carry permits across state lines, and voted against punishing sanctuary cities.
Meanwhile, former Congressman Grimm, fresh off of serving time in federal prison for tax fraud, has hired former Trump campaign advisers in an attempt to paint himself as the "Trump" candidate.
However, Grimm’s own recent conduct and allegations that Grimm’s campaign may have filed an House Ethics Complaint that Donovan calls "100 percent false" are far from what is commonly associated with an insurgent campaign.
This race in a toss-up district may go a long way to see if the Trump coattails matter to Republican primary voters when offered a less-than-appealing choice, but may also be a "Scarlet Letter" to the eventual Republican nominee in a general election contested in a city that is at the heart of the Democratic resistance.
The nation will get the answer to these questions and more as the 2018 midterms play out. Stay tuned.
Gene Berardelli is a street-smart trial attorney who, through his time as the Law Chair of the Republican Party in Brooklyn, New York, has developed a solid reputation as an election attorney successfully representing conservative candidates.
Russell Gallo is a security expert and combat veteran who attained the rank of First Sergeant in the New York Army National Guard, earning a Combat Action Badge in Iraq. Together, they host Behind Enemy Lines Radio, a national award-winning radio show and podcast broadcasting out of "The People's Republic of" New York that airs weekly on AM and FM radio stations as part of the Talk America Radio network. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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