Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidential election are growing slimmer by the moment, and last night’s debate likely didn’t improve them. For House and Senate Republicans trying to retain their seats, the hope was that the party’s nominee would at least avoid creating another wave of damaging headlines that their Democratic opponents can use to tie them to his failing candidacy.
He did not do them that courtesy.
Trump’s declaration last night that he will not commit to accepting the result of the presidential election in November piles yet another burden on down-ballot Republicans, and the accumulated weight is taking its toll.
Even before his appearance in Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, Trump was causing problems for Republicans on the ballot in House and Senate races.
“[I]n well-educated suburban districts, Donald Trump's atrocious numbers - especially with women - means GOP candidates are fighting his toxicity as much as they are fighting their Democratic opponents,” wrote David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report. “This is still true for several strong, well-funded incumbents who have disavowed the nominee.”
Wasserman mentioned Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who is in danger of losing her seat in the Democratic-leaning suburbs of Washington. But she is far from the only elected Republican who has found it necessary to push back against the party’s own presidential nominee.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican locked in a tight reelection contest, felt the need to respond to Trump on Twitter last night, writing, “Peaceful transfer of power & acceptance of election results is fundamental to our democracy & Constitution. This cannot be undermined ever.”
The Cook Political Report and other forecasters still don’t think it’s likely that Trump will cost the GOP control of the House of Representatives, which would require a swing of 30 seats. But that’s in spite of Trump, not because of him.
“In blue-collar seats like MI-07 and WI-08, Democrats’ messaging tying GOP candidates to Trump has either fallen flat or Democrats have been forced to attack Republicans on other issues like trade,” Wasserman explains. “This unevenness helps explain why Democrats’ upside is limited. Our outlook remains a Democratic gain in the 5 to 20 seat range, short of the 30 they need for a majority.”
In the Senate, though, it’s a different story. According to Geoffrey Skelley, of the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics, the Democrats went into last night with multiple paths to control of the upper house, where a four-seat swing, combined with a Democratic vice president to break ties, would give them a functional majority.
In a statement, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is not himself up for reelection this year, said that Trump is doing damage to the broader party.
“Mr. Trump is doing the party and country a great disservice by continuing to suggest the outcome of this election is out of hands and ‘rigged’ against him,” Graham said. “If he loses, it will not be because the system is 'rigged' but because he failed as a candidate.”
Candidates in tight races, like New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is trying to fend off a challenge from a popular sitting governor, are faced with fighting off association with Trump as well. In an interview with a local news reporter this morning, Ayotte said, “The voters are going to decide this election and Donald Trump needs to accept the outcome. If there are reports that need to be investigated, they will be, as I used to do as Attorney General.”
Late Thursday morning, things showed no sign of getting easier for down-ballot Republicans. Even as another woman was coming forward in a press conference to accuse Trump of inappropriately touching her body without consent, the candidate was raging on Twitter -- while offering no proof at all -- that Clinton was supplied with the debate questions in advance last night.
It’s another baseless claim that will probably work its way into questions that embattled Republican senators and members of Congress will face in the closing weeks of the election.