Donors are not running from Trump — far from it

The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 30 – This week:

  • Republicans lead big in finance — but money isn’t everything
  • All but two of the GOP governors running for re-election are popular
  • McCain’s illness could add another Senate race to the 2018 calendar


GOP fundraising: Whatever else you might say about the Trump era of the Republican Party, it has not been poor. At least not so far

With Democrats exhibiting the enthusiasm of their left-wing base in special elections (yet turning out no victories of significance), and with President Trump’s numbers plumbing new depths, Republicans are nonetheless outraising the opposition, big time.

The numbers for this year to date are striking: $75.4 million for the RNC, $38.2 million for the DNC. The Republicans’ main committee has set a new record for fundraising in a non-presidential year, blowing the doors off any previous cycle. With more than $10 million, it has also doubled up Democrats in contributions from small donors who give less than $200.

Concerns that Trump’s brash style or even his unpopularity in the polls would cause the donor class to abandon the party seem to have been vastly overstated.

There are many theories for the Democrats’ party committees failing to become the vehicle for the “resistance” and its enthusiasm. One is that so much money — including small-donor money — went into the special congressional election in Georgia’s Sixth District. Another is that the split within the party, between Bernie Sanders enthusiasts and Hillary Clinton supporters, endures and continues to fly behind the good ship Democrat like an albatross.

Even in the era of SuperPACs, party money remains important and plays a role. As Reince Priebus used to explain to crowds when he was RNC chairman, there are many things, including a sophisticated and centralized high-tech turnout operation, that the party must develop for itself, as it cannot be legally shared with the party committees by outside groups.

With all that said, it’s important to remember that money isn’t everything. Republicans can only take so much solace in fundraising numbers. Hillary Clinton dramatically outraised and outspent Donald Trump, after all. She’s now a Twitter celebrity and former first lady on the speaking circuit. He’s president.

More to the point, look to history. In 2006, the Republicans’ last midterm disaster, the three Republican party committees (the RNC, NRCC and NRSC) collectively outraised their Democratic counterparts, $792 million to just $602 million — roughly a 30 percent advantage in funds raised. It didn’t help the GOP avoid losing the House and Senate, or being completely shut out of power in 23 of 50 states.

In 2010, Democratic committees raised $817 million to Republicans’ $587 million and were crushed. In 2014, Democrats raised $854 million to Republicans’ $665 million yet lost badly anyway.

In each case, it really goes to show that when the people turn against you, for whatever reason, no amount of money can save you. Money can’t buy you love — or elections, despite what campaign finance cultists might claim.

Governor 2018

Next November, 36 of the nation’s 50 governorships will be up for election. This week, we survey the overall landscape and look at Republicans’ bids to hang on to governors’ mansions in the bluest of Blue States.

Morning Consult released its periodic survey of governors’ approval ratings last week, covering 49 of the 50 states. (Iowa, whose lieutenant governor just ascended to the governorship, was not included.) At the moment, all of the ten most popular governors are Republicans. Seven of the ten least popular are also Republicans. That’s not too odd, given that most in-cycle governors are Republicans after the blowout elections of 2010 and 2014.

Call it grade inflation if you like, but 34 of the nation’s 50 governors have positive job approvals. Of those, 22 are Republicans, and 19 of these govern states where there’s a gubernatorial election in 2018. Eleven of the Republicans with net-positive approval are actually running again (or in the cases of two unelected governors, running for the first time) in 2018.

There are also eight states where Republican governors are underwater, ranging from slightly so (Paul LePage and Susana Martinez, by one point) to hugely so (Sam Brownback and Chris Christie, by more than 40 points) in the Morning Consult surveys. Only two of these (Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bruce Rauner of Illinois) are running for another term at this point.

Whether they are running or not, the popularity of a current GOP governor could well determine whether the voters of his or her state are willing to elect another.

This is especially important at a moment when Republicans dominate the nation’s governorships to a historically unusual degree. If the 2018 election is a real backlash election, as were the 2006, 2010 and 2014 elections, Republicans might have a lot to lose.

Blue States: The irony that the Republican governors of Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont are among the most popular in America is obvious. But the three races are not by any means the same. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott are heavily favored. The race in Maryland will likely prove the most competitive — perhaps the only competitive one out of the three.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s popularity should not be mistaken for easy electability, although he clearly has a decent shot at re-election. Recall that in 2006, Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich had done most things right, but lost badly anyway, sucked under by an anti-Bush tide.

Still, Hogan has managed to do something unusual. He hasn’t shied away from big fights in Annapolis, but it’s nearly always been over obscure local issues, and he has fought in a conventional, mostly dignified manner (in sharp contrast to, say, LePage). He has avoided the major national hot-button topics that tend to get politicians into so much trouble. Hogan has also distanced himself from Trump, probably unavoidable in a state that voted against Trump nearly two to one.

Voters in Maryland seem to like Hogan’s approach so far, or at least that’s what they tell all the pollsters. But will they prefer his approach to a Democratic candidate, especially if it turns out to be someone like Rep. John Delaney, who represents the D.C. suburbs? So far, Delaney is clearly the most formidable opponent in a field that continues to grow. This week, the wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D, announced her candidacy.

Aside from Maryland, the most obvious Democratic pickup target in 2018 will be Illinois, where Democrats in the state legislature just rammed through a tax increase over Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto. The fallout from the bitter fight over the state budget could cut either way. Democrats have denied Rauner the ability to fix the state’s dire financial situation, and some voters may well blame him for the continued dysfunction and flight of population and businesses, which goes on in spite of his promises to fix the problems when he was first elected in 2014.

Senate 2018

Arizona: Whatever its other implications, the brain cancer diagnosis of Sen. John McCain, R, creates a possible scenario where there will be two seats up for election in 2018. If McCain retires and Gov. Doug Ducey appoints a successor, a special election would take concurrently with the re-election race of Sen. Jeff Flake, R, whom President Trump’s allies are already working to defeat in a primary.

Missouri: Attorney General Josh Hawley continues to play Hamlet about whether to run against Sen. Claire McCaskill, D. She is by far the most vulnerable Democratic senator, having won in 2018 only thanks to a self-destructing opponent whom she actually helped win the Republican primary. There are no signs this time that a bitter multi-way Republican primary could bring about a similar mishap, as nearly everyone seems ready to accept Hawley if he does ultimately jump in.

Nevada: President Trump confronted Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., in his health care meeting with GOP senators last week: “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump asked. “Okay. And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re going to appreciate what you hopefully will do. Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America you’re fine with Obamacare.”

Heller has only himself to blame for becoming the focal point of the health care debate. Had he simply committed to the repeal bill early on, he’d probably be facing less controversy, or controversy that is less widely noticed, at least. His Hamlet act over whether to vote for it has just increased the amount of negative attention he’s getting.

Democrats lining up to face him include Rep. Jacky Rosen (who has formally declared) and Rep. Dina Titus (who has not). The pre-primary posturing between the two hints at a behind-the-scenes battle over the influence of former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid over the state party, now that he’s out of the game himself.