Sen. Cornyn: Trump could hurt GOP chances to hold the Senate

posted at 8:01 pm on February 29, 2016 by John Sexton

Majority Senate Whip John Cornyn suggested to CNN that nominating Donald Trump could make it tougher for the party to hold on to seats in the Senate this year.

“We can’t have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races,” Cornyn told CNN. Asked if the GOP could lose the Senate as a result of Trump’s influcence, Cornyn replied, “I think he certainly is a controversial figure. I think we need someone who can unify the party, as opposed to divide the party.” Cornyn has yet to endorse any alternative candidate in the race.

Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats in the 2016 election while Democrats only have to defend ten. Trump’s brand of commentary can be used as a cudgel against GOP incumbents, the same way Todd Akin’s comments were used against the party in 2012. Case in point, here’s a new ad put up by Arizona Senate challenger Ann Kirkpatrick today. The ad uses clips of Donald Trump to damage Senator John McCain:

As the ad suggests, Trump’s supporters seem willing to let him say anything he wants to say without fear of consequence. But that strange magic is not likely to hold for every GOP Senator seeking re-election. We could spend the next eight months playing “Do you denounce this Trump statement?” all across the country. Does anyone doubt the national media would be up for that?

All of this could result in a worst case scenario for the GOP that goes like this: Assume the party is able to hold off on Barack Obama’s nomination to replace Scalia for the rest of 2016. Now imagine that Trump wins the nomination but general distaste for his comments costs the GOP enough seats to flip the Senate and also he loses the election. Starting in January 2016 you have Hillary Clinton poised to nominate a far left jurist to replace Justice Scalia and you have a Democratic Senate eager to go along with it. And given this ideal moment in time it’s possible Justice Ginsburg could choose to retire and be replaced by a younger, far-left replacement.

The Senate math is very different in 2018 with the GOP defending only 8 seats and the Democrats defending twenty-three. Maybe the pendulum swings back and the GOP is in control of the Senate again after that, but it’s already too late for the court which is now decidedly left-leaning for the foreseeable future. Again, this is a hypothetical in which everything has to go wrong (from the GOP perspective) for it to happen, but it’s not impossible. Given his position, it’s certainly reasonable for Cornyn to be worried about it.

Cornyn is the highest profile GOP officeholder to publicly question the wisdom of nominating Trump but not the only Senator to do so. Sunday night Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska posted a lengthy letter on Facebook explaining his decision not to vote for Trump (noted earlier today by Jazz Shaw):

Given what we know about him today, here’s where I’m at: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate – a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.

I do not claim to speak for a movement, but I suspect I am far from alone. After listening to Nebraskans in recent weeks, and talking to a great many people who take oaths seriously, I think many are in the same place. I believe a sizable share of Christians – who regard threats against religious liberty as arguably the greatest crisis of our time – are unwilling to support any candidate who does not make a full-throated defense of the First Amendment a first commitment of their candidacy.

Conservatives understand that all men are created equal and made in the image of God, but also that government must be limited so that fallen men do not wield too much power. A presidential candidate who boasts about what he’ll do during his “reign” and refuses to condemn the KKK cannot lead a conservative movement in America.

The problem is that all of this opposition to Trump may be too little, too late. If Super Tuesday polls are remotely accurate, Trump is likely to end the day tomorrow with more than 1/4 of the delegates he needs to win the nomination. What does the party do if this election cycle’s Todd Akin is its nominee for President?

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