With Friends Like Trump, Senate Republicans Don’t Need Enemies
Policy + Politics

With Friends Like Trump, Senate Republicans Don’t Need Enemies

© Carlos Barria / Reuters

As the Republican Party tries desperately to retain its grip on the Senate, Donald Trump is biting its fingers like Sonny Corleone when he’s beating up his brother-in-law in The Godfather.

Related: How Trump Could Bring Down Senate Republicans in 2016

At a town hall in New Hampshire on Thursday, Trump said that one reason Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois is losing his re-election race is that he has disavowed the GOP presidential nominee. “He’s not doing well, but, hey, that’s his problem. He wasn’t for me…,” Trump said.

Kirk has called Trump unfit to be commander in chief in the past. But he holds one of the most vulnerable Republican seats in the Senate. Kirk is a moderate who served five terms in the House, but he is up against a potent rival: Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth has opened up a seven-point lead against him, according to Real Clear Politics. Duckworth lost most of two legs when the helicopter she was piloting was hit by enemy fire in the Iraq War, but she went on to become the first Asian-American woman from Illinois elected to Congress.

On Friday, Kirk’s campaign manager slammed Trump, telling Business Insider that the Kirk is outperforming him in Illinois by 13 points.

Related: Trump and Pence Snub GOP Senators, Roiling the Party Yet Again

This kind of public scrap between Trump and Republican senators struggling to hang on to their jobs is exactly what the GOP doesn’t need right now. Last summer, the man at the top of the ticket withheld endorsements of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whom he once said wasn’t a war hero despite five years in captivity in North Vietnam, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire because they had been slow to support him.

While Trump eventually relented, Ayotte may have gone overboard in calming the waters. Her 2.3-point lead against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan could dwindle as she struggles to walk back recent comments calling Trump a role model for children. And a 2005 tape recording of Trump making lewd, lounge-lizard comments about women to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2005 could make Ayotte seem even more clueless.

With 47 seats likely for the GOP and 47 likely for Democrats on the Real Clear Politics map of the Senate races, Ayotte is one of the stronger Republicans vying for the six seats in the “tossup” column. In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey holds just a 0.6-point lead over Democratic challenger Katie McGinty; North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr is in a statistical dead heat with Democrat Deborah Ross; and in the open race in Indiana, Republican candidate Todd Young is four points behind former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.

Related: Mike Pence Is Giving a Lot of Trump Supporters Buyer’s Remorse

Even veteran Republican politician Roy Blunt of Missouri is looking vulnerable. The incumbent senator has a 2.5-point lead, but Democratic rival Jason Kander, a former Army captain who served in Afghanistan, could be catching up, according to The Wall Street Journal. When Blunt accused Kander of being soft on gun rights, the Democrat ran an eye-catching ad in which he assembles an AR-15 assault rifle blindfolded (watch the ad below). And the nonpartisan Cook Political Report has moved the race from being a likely win for the GOP to a tossup.

The struggle for control of the Senate seems so tight right now that more intemperate remarks from the Republican Party standard bearer could tip the scales.

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