Under the best of circumstances, Republicans will have a tough time retaining control of the Senate next year. The GOP will have twice as many seats to defend as the Democrats and a few of their incumbents will struggle to hang on.
Making matters worse, billionaire Donald Trump continues to hammer congressional Republican leaders as “very, very stupid people” who have allowed President Obama to have his way on the Iran nuclear deal and key funding issues, creating a climate of doubt among voters that could help Democrats regain control.
Trump, the GOP presidential frontrunner who is comfortable blasting Republicans and Democrats alike, joined with conservatives in denouncing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for inept leadership.
During a joint appearance with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin on Capitol Hill Sept. 9 to oppose the U.S.-Iran nuclear non-proliferation agreement prior to congressional action, Trump offered searing words for Obama and congressional leadership.
“We are led by very, very stupid people. Very, very stupid people. We cannot let it continue," Trump told a crowd of several thousand Tea Party adherents, veterans and pro-Israel advocates. He said America "can't beat anybody" and has allowed Iranian negotiators to make fools of the U.S.
By closely aligning himself with Cruz – one of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination – Trump tacitly embraced Cruz’s relentless criticism of McConnell as a “liar” who misled his GOP colleagues while maneuvering to help President Obama pass major Asian trade legislation. Cruz and other conservatives berated the GOP leadership for going along with bipartisan legislation allowing for congressional review of the Iran nuclear deal that enabled Obama to avert a vote on a resolution of disapproval that would have derailed the deal.
Trump publicly disagreed with McConnell as well over strategy for passing major spending legislation to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. He sided with Cruz and other conservatives in the Senate and House who are threatening to foment a spending crisis unless Congress agrees to slash more than $500 million in spending for Planned Parenthood.
McConnell says there is no way to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood without inviting a veto from Obama and that he is determined there will not be a repeat of the 2013 government shutdown. But Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show recently that the Republican-led Congress should risk another government shutdown if that’s the “only way to get rid of Planned Parenthood money.”
Asked by Hewitt whether he would support a shutdown if necessary, “I can tell you this: I would,” Trump responded.
Even before Trump joined in, McConnell and Boehner have faced a steady barrage of criticism from their conservative base as they seek to balance partisan demands with the political realities of enacting legislation with a Democratic president and sizeable minority in both chambers.
While Congress has typically suffered from low approval ratings, a new survey by the Morning Consult suggests that voters’ view of Congress’s top leaders is especially negative.
Only 19 percent of registered voters have a positive view of Boehner and just 15 percent view McConnell in a favorable light, according to the survey. And among Republicans, the results are only a little better for the two leaders: 31 percent approve of Boehner while only 21 percent view McConnell favorably.
Neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) nor Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) did much better in the ratings.
As Reid Wilson of Morning Consult, wrote: “As they try to walk the delicate tightrope between assuaging a conservative base that expects results and the political realities of governing alongside a Democratic president, both men have been the subjects of virtually non-stop assaults from talk radio hosts, popular with conservative voters, who say Boehner and McConnell haven’t tried hard enough to confront President Obama, or to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”
The GOP currently holds a 54 to 46 vote advantage over the Democrats and independents. With the Republicans forced to defend 24 seats next year to only 10 for the Democrats, there is a better than even chance the Democrats will pick up one or two seats, according to some political analysts. Although the political situation is fluid, five Republican-held seats in Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire and two Democratic-held seats in Colorado and Nevada are deemed to be the most vulnerable to challenge by the opposing party.