The politics of Donald Trump’s shutdown are beginning to worry some big-time Republican operatives.
Opinion polls show that while Trump has increased his approval ratings with Republican voters during the shutdown, he has lost significant ground with many important voting groups, such as independents and non-college educated white voters. These are both crucial demographics for a Republican presidential victory in 2020.
Highly regarded former White House political strategist Karl Rove held a meeting with Senate Republicans this week and told them they should not be too reliant on their conservative base for their electoral support. Rove said they will be facing a tough 2020 presidential election and they need to reverse the direction of the polls.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published Thursday showed the president has seen his approval rating drop by 9 points and his disapproval rating climb by 9 points among suburban men during the shutdown.
Rove, was former President George W. Bush’s top political strategist, and he still carries significant clout in GOP circle. He was invited by Senate leaders to speak to the 22 Republican incumbents who will be up for reelection in 2020. They held a day-long planning session on Thursday in Washington.
Senate Republicans are worried about losing their majority status in 2020. They have a much tougher map to defend the 22 seats than they had in 2018, and if Trump’s popularity continues to plummet they may be at risk of losing Senate seats in Colorado, Maine, Iowa, or Arizona. A net loss of three seats plus the presidency would give Democrats control of the upper chamber.
Needless to say GOP lawmakers are getting extremely nervous about next year’s election. Economic experts have been warning that the government shutdown could lower economic growth significantly, and it is likely Trump and Senate Republicans will shoulder most of the blame for this.
Rove advised the senators at the meeting not to rely too much on the conservative base for their reelections. The base is solidly behind Trump in the shutdown stalemate but the base is getting smaller and won’t be enough to assure election victories. He stressed the importance of expanding the GOP’s appeal beyond the core base of strong Trump supporters.
One GOP senator who attended the meeting said:
“He talked about politics being about addition and multiplication. You want to continue to bring people in who support you and the ideas that you’re presenting to help the country move forward in a productive way”
Another person said that Rove warned “a base-only strategy is a perilous bet for 2020” and advised “the party that realizes this first may gain the edge in the coming presidential contest.”
Rove has recently published editorials saying that while Democrats have refused to compromise, the White House should consider “publicly announcing an offer to end the shutdown” by asking for border wall funding in return for legal status for Dreamers.
Saturday’s White House address by Trump came close to doing this, but did not offer full legal status for the DACA recipients and thus was a failure. So Trump is continuing to lose the shutdown war for public opinion.
A Quinnipiac University poll published Monday showed that registered independent voters found the arguments of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) more believable than Trump’s by a margin of 48 percent to 33 percent.
At Thursday’s meeting Rove also explained the massive problems that GOP candidates had among suburban voters in the 2018 midterm elections. He warned that they would need to regain many of these formerly-Republican voters to win future elections.
Losing the suburban vote was a troubling development for GOP candidates as suburbs have become younger and more diverse, a demographic trend which will only get worse for Republicans in the future.
In November Rove saw what was coming and warned that “we’ve got to be worried about what’s happening in the suburbs.”
“When we start to lose in the suburbs, it says something about us,” he said at the time. He also made clear that the GOP couldn’t make up for suburban voter losses by picking up voters in rural areas because “frankly, there’s more growth in suburban areas.”
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) acknowledged to reporters that the president still needs to convince independent voters that funding the border wall is worth a partial government shutdown.
“The real battlefield is for those independent voters and I don’t think he’s probably won them over yet,” Thune said.
All polls show that Democrats are winning the public relations battle over the shutdown, which is especially hurting Republicans among suburban and independent voters.
As one Democratic pollster said:
“Normally people blame both parties in shutdowns but most voters really think this shutdown is due to Trump. Shutdowns often get blamed on the Republicans because people think that Democrats like to do things with government so they are unlikely to shut it down.”
“Right now we are winning the swing vote on the shutdown.”
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.