Some Republican candidates are trying to publicly distance themselves from former President Trump just as President Biden is beginning to see small signs of Democrats more openly embracing him.
Trump-endorsed candidates including Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz and Arizona Attorney General nominee Abe Hamadeh have scrubbed aspects of Trump’s presence from their Twitter accounts following their primary victories.
In Arizona, Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters removed language from his campaign website asserting that if the 2020 presidential election had been “free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today and America would be so much better off.”
At the same time, Democratic nominees in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania are planning to appear with Biden in the upcoming weeks.
Of course, it’s not unusual for candidates to downplay some of the more controversial positions they may have staked out during partisan primaries that tend to attract parties’ most loyal — and ideological — voters.
And Republicans aren’t erasing their ties to Trump completely. Oz’s campaign website still prominently features a picture of the former president and notes that he’s been endorsed by Trump. Masters’ website, meanwhile, features a badge on its homepage reading “Trump endorsed.” Trump is set to hold a rally in Pennsylvania Saturday for Oz and Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano.
“The endorsement is the first endorsement listed on our website and we changed the banner to thank Pennsylvanians after the recount was completed,” Brittany Yanick, a spokesperson for Oz, said in a statement to The Hill.
But taking steps — even small ones — to create distance from Trump indicates at least some unease about the effects the former president could have on candidates’ abilities to attract crucial voting blocs.
Strategists say GOP nominees may need to walk a tightrope.
Republican candidates, especially those who tied themselves closely to Trump during their primaries, could put themselves at risk of drawing the ire of the former president.
“Look, you run the campaign you need to run in order to win,” one former Trump campaign aide said. “I think what’s so dangerous about that though is that a lot of these candidates still need to square that with the fact that they won their primaries in the first place because of [Trump]. He’s still the most popular person in the party and the base is still going to matter in the general.”
“I don’t think he’s going to bail on anyone and un-endorse them or anything. But he will take notice. If you’re someone who’s, you know, taking his endorsement, his priorities, off your campaign website or whatever, he’s going to notice that.”
But Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist, said that the risk could be worth the reward. While Trump remains deeply popular among the GOP’s most conservative voters, he could prove to be a liability for GOP candidates, especially in states that Trump lost in the 2020 presidential election.
“They have to do what they have to do to win. They have to take those chances,” Naughton said. “And I think it does help. The less they talk about him, the better. The more they talk about Biden and his opponents the better they are.”
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist who is also an opinion contributor to The Hill, said he thinks some Republicans are distancing themselves from Trump because “Trump becomes more of a liability every day,” noting the recent controversy following the FBI’s search at Mar-a-Lago.
“I think Trump is on the roller coaster to hell right now. And I think you’re going to see more and more Republicans distance themselves as these legal problems and the espionage charges and classified documents become more prominent, and they will.”
Meanwhile, in a sign of the changing political landscape, some members of Biden’s party appear to be moving closer toward him.
Ohio Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan, Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro changed course in recent weeks, with Shapiro appearing alongside Biden on Tuesday and Ryan and Fetterman planning to appear with Biden in the coming days and weeks.
“Tim proudly fought to pass the CHIPS Act, which will ensure Ohio workers dominate the industries of the future and laid the foundation for Intel’s transformational investment into Ohio, and he wouldn’t miss this historic moment for anything,” Ryan campaign spokesperson Izzi Levy said, referring to a recently-enacted law to boost domestic chip manufacturing and investment in scientific research.
All three cited scheduling conflicts in missing previous stops with the president. But taken together the latest appearances are notable, coming against the backdrop of key legislative wins, executive steps and a slight uptick in polling numbers.
Democrats have recently celebrated the passage of their sweeping health, tax and climate package; an impressive July jobs report; and Biden’s recent executive action to wipe out some student debt for many federal loan borrowers.
Democratic strategist Basil Smikle attributed the shift to “recent legislative successes, the executive order on student loans, which would hopefully spur a lot of younger voters to come out in the midterm.”
“That change, slight as it may be, is actually an important milestone,” he added.
Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, who’s taking on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in November, spoke about wanting Biden to campaign with him in a way many Democrats in recent weeks and months have not — emphatically.
He said in an interview on CNN after winning his primary he would “absolutely” want Biden to come and campaign with him. He added, “He’s a great man. He’s a great president. I can’t wait for him to get down here. I need his help. I want his help. And he’s the best I’ve ever met.”
The White House did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), whose House seat has been rated as a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, earlier this month released an ad in which she said that “doesn’t work for Joe Biden. She works for you.”
Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who’s been known for bucking his party on Democratic priorities like Build Back Better and a sweeping gun package that was passed earlier this summer, said in an ad this month that he “cracked Biden’s aggressive spending agenda.”
Naughton said that the decision of some Democrats to embrace Biden may simply be a tacit acknowledgement that they won’t be able to escape him entirely.
“Your opponents are going to tie you to this unpopular guy anyway, and it’s too much of a story to try to snub him and generate some real rancor on your own side of the aisle,” Naughton said. “Candidates in these tight races, they’re not going to want Biden around come October.”
Bob Shrum, director of the USC Center for the Political Future and Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics, said it would be a “mistake” to avoid appearing alongside the president and believed candidates like Golden or Kaptur weren’t gaining any points from distancing themselves from Biden.
“It may be that there are times when you want to campaign with him, times when you don’t want to campaign with him. And that can depend on lots of different circumstances,” Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist whose clients have included Biden, said. “But I wouldn’t advise them to run an ad, you know, saying ‘I’m different than Joe Biden.’ I mean, talk about issues that people in those districts care about.”
Bannon, the Democratic strategist, suggested that candidates should campaign with Biden given he’ll be a focal point of the midterms.
“I would advise them to campaign with Joe Biden because the reality is a lot of voters are going to make this decision, whether the Democratic congressional candidates want it or not, a lot of voters are going to their decisions in House races based on their feelings about Joe Biden,” he said.
Via The Hill
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