Republican senators are increasingly voicing fears that President Donald Trump could lose the election and some are openly distancing themselves from him to an unusual extent.
Pointed warnings of electoral defeat have come in recent days from Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. All are former Trump critics turned allies who reliably vote with the president.
“I’m worried that if President Trump loses — as looks likely — that he’s going to take the Senate down with him,” Sasse said in a conference call with constituents last week, according to audio first reported on Thursday by the Washingon Examiner.
The elevated fears come as Democrat Joe Biden leads Trump by more than 9 points in the national polls and as some forecasters say Democrats are likely to secure control of Congress.
“I hope that they’re having a moment of moral clarity. I think they’re realizing that the Trump show is almost over,” said Olivia Troye, a former homeland security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who served on the White House coronavirus task force.
Troye, a longtime Republican, says she plans to vote for Biden and Democrats down the ballot this fall. “There needs to be a significant change,” she said, and insisted that Sasse represents the misgivings of many party elites who are afraid to speak up.
At the Supreme Court hearing last Thursday for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Trump golfing partner who is in a close re-election battle himself, told Democrats, “Y’all have a good chance of winning the White House.”
Cruz, a Trump rival in 2016 and now a staunch ally, said recently on CNBC that if Americans are angry and depressed, “we could lose the White House and both houses of Congress,” and the 2020 election “could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions.”
The remarks also represent a jockeying for position in an anticipated post-Trump world, when the party will have to chart a new path. As others in the GOP cozy up to far-right conspiracy movements like QAnon, Sasse suggested in his remarks that he wants to excise some of the party’s Trumpian elements.
Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former Republican operative, said the remarks “strike me less as panic and more as resignation setting in.”
“Even then only Sasse has been critical of the president. Cruz is essentially pre-spinning the loss and laying the blame with Democrats,” he said. “Both suggest the writing is on the wall, but otherwise very different tacks.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who trails his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham in a competitive race, is openly contemplating Trump’s defeat and orienting his messaging around it.
“The best check on a Biden presidency is for Republicans to have a majority in the Senate. And I do think ‘checks and balances’ does resonate with North Carolina voters,” he told Politico.
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Garland Tucker, a retired Raleigh financier who briefly challenged Tillis in the Republican primary before ending his bid early and endorsing him, told NBC News that there is “apprehension” in the party that Trump could lose.
“Any conservative and any Republican fears that could be the case,” he said. But several days ago, he predicted “a very close election” that could tighten if Trump “has a successful next three weeks.”
Tucker said he remained optimistic that Trump would win but added that Republican candidates are in trouble if he doesn’t. “The weaker President Trump is at the top of the ticket, the more likely it is that we lose the Senate majority,” he said. “The two are pretty inextricably combined.”