He represents a hotly contested Latino-majority district in Florida. Trump’s favorable rating among Latinos nationwide is, um, 12/77. Democrats will, of course, give special attention to turning out Latino Democrats in Florida. Curbelo’s probably doomed with Trump at the top of the ticket no matter what he does, but crossing the aisle for Hillary is an obvious first step. Frankly, he may be better off switching party affiliations if he wants to hold his seat.
One of the eight thousand fascinating things about Trump as nominee would be watching how congressional loyalties shake out. Some, in purplish districts, will go Curbelo’s route; those in reliably red districts can do whatever they like. Or can they? Rep. Chris Collins, who’s endorsed Trump, claims that many of his colleagues support Trump as well but aren’t endorsing him for “reasons unique to their particular congressional districts.” Okay, but most House Republicans hold safe (or safe-ish) seats and many hail from states that Trump’s already won. If they’re holding back anyway, it’s either because their support for Trump isn’t as strong as Collins thinks or because they’re afraid that backing Trump — at least before their own House primary — is too risky. Which itself tells you a lot about how the pros view Trump’s coattails.
Curbelo told the reporter here that he’d prefer to vote for a third-party candidate, the fondest dream of #NeverTrumpers. Read Sean Trende today, though, for a smart argument on why the costs of an independent run that sinks Trump are likely to exceed the benefits. (By “costs,” I mean the political costs. The actual costs of getting on the ballot and trying to muscle in on the national conversation between Hillary and Trump would be steep too. Who’s footing that bill?) The main argument for having a conservative third-party challenger on the ballot is that it’ll give demoralized righties a reason to turn out in November and vote for Republicans like Curbelo down-ballot, which might at least save the House. But what if that argument is oversold? Presidential coattails have been overrated for decades, notes Trende, citing 1980 and 2008 as the only convincing examples in the last several decades. Especially with an unorthodox nominee like Trump, ticket-splitting might be more likely. And even if it isn’t, think about what you’d be sacrificing in sabotaging his chances purely to try to protect congressional Republicans:
Party coalitions are, of necessity in this country, diverse, broad coalitions, with many sub-segments. If the party leadership itself abandons the coalition, especially in an explicit attempt to deny the Republican nominee a win, it will have lost whatever authority it has remaining to manage the various coalitions.
Moreover, if Trump is to lose, the lesson (assuming there is any) about his popularity would be best learned if he loses straight up. Abandoning the party and running a rear guard action would enable Trump supporters – assuming he loses – to operate under a “stabbed in the back” theory in 2020 and going forward. And they’d be right!
This is the ultimate rejoinder to advocates of “we need someone to save the down-ballot candidates.” Maybe Trump will drag the bottom of the ticket down. But even if a third party candidate managed to save some House and Senate seats (and there’s no guarantee Trump’s supporters wouldn’t skip the down-ballot races in retaliation for a third party bid), it would come at the cost of the party’s long-term future.
Good point. And if you’re worried about anti-Trump Republicans staying home if he’s the nominee, that fear might be oversold too. If the GOP really does look like it’s on its way to a wipeout this fall, anti-Trumpers may be motivated to turn out to protect the House and Senate as a hedge against President Hillary. Lord knows, there’ll be plenty of encouragement to do so from conservative media and establishment figures. #NeverTrumpers could show up and refuse to vote for president while filling out the rest of their ballot, write someone in, or vote for one of the extant third parties. A lot of energy will be spent on fostering that mindset too. It might not be enough to save an incumbent as vulnerable as Curbelo but it’ll save a few — hopefully enough to give the House GOP veto power over the first two years of Clinton 3.0.