has suffered a handful of high-profile legislative defeats in recent days. But you’d be mistaken to think Trump has lost his grip on the Grand Old Party.
Recent polls show that the president is still enormously popular among likely GOP voters — a fact GOP office holders and those contemplating political bids in 2020 are well aware of.
“Trump’s endorsement is still the most sought-after thing for Republicans running for office. I’ve seen nothing that has equaled it in my political career,” Rep. Mark Meadows
(R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus and one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, told The Hill in a phone interview.
Those thinking about running for office for the first time in 2020 say they realize they need to closely align with Trump to be viable. And few GOP incumbents facing tough races next year were willing to break with Trump even as some of their colleagues bucked the president on a series of high-profile issues.
The House voted 420-0 on a resolution urging special counsel Robert Mueller
to make public his report on the Russia collusion investigation, which Trump has railed against as a “witch hunt.”
Separately, the Senate on Wednesday voted to halt U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia as it fights a civil war in Yemen civil war. Seven Republicans joined the Democrats in that vote, an unmistakable rebuke of Trump for his unwavering support of Saudi Arabia after the royal family there was implicated in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The very next day, 12 Republicans joined the Democrats to rebuke Trump once again. This time, the Senate voted 59-41 to block Trump’s emergency declaration to fund his border wall. The GOP defections ranged from members of leadership (Sen. Roy Blunt
(R-Mo.) to former presidential rivals-turned-allies (Sens. Marco Rubio
(R-Fla.) and Rand Paul
(R-Ky.) and a former GOP presidential nominee (Sen. Mitt Romney
But only one of the dozen GOP rebels is up for reelection next year: Sen. Susan Collins
of Maine, a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton
carried in 2016 and where Trump remains unpopular.
Three other GOP senators with tough reelection bids in 2020 all lined up behind Trump in the final roll call: Sens. Cory Gardner
(R-Colo.), Martha McSally
(R-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis
Tillis’s vote in particularly was a sign of Trump’s continuing hold on his party.
Just weeks ago, Tillis made a big splash, writing in a Washington Post op-ed that he would buck Trump and vote with Democrats to halt the president’s unilateral action to fund his wall on the southern border, arguing that Article 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse.
But the move infuriated conservative Trump loyalists back home in the Tarheel State, and conservative Rep. Mark Walker
(R-N.C.), a Trump ally, began making noise about a primary challenge to Tillis.
Tillis “created a firestorm,” said one GOP operative from North Carolina. “People here see it as politically disloyal and undermining the Trump agenda.”
The senator promptly flip-flopped and voted “no” on the Democratic resolution.
Republicans don’t need to look far to see what happens to lawmakers who decide to go to war with Trump.
Arizona Republican Jeff Flake
, who once flirted with primarying Trump in 2020, is no longer in the Senate. Neither is Tennessee Republican Bob Corker
, who likened Trump’s White House to a “daycare center.”
And Rep. Mark Sanford
(R-S.C.), who liberally criticized Trump’s behavior and policies, was ousted last year in his primary race by a Trump die-hard supporter.
According to an Economist/YouGov poll last week, nearly 70 percent of likely Republican voters had a very favorable opinion of Trump, while nearly 90 percent of GOP voters had a very favorable or somewhat favorable view of him.
“Trump has a lockhold on 35 percent of voters, pure conservatives who are sick and tired of how things are done” in Washington, said one grassroots conservative activist who is planning to run for Congress next year as a “Trump candidate.”
“That 35 percent 一 he’s already got their votes, so if any Republican plans to run for reelection, they know they cannot alienate that 35 percent.”
Trump allies on Capitol Hill rejected the notion that the House and Senate had truly “broken” with the president on the three votes last week, calling them messaging votes. The resolution to release the Mueller report was non-binding and went nowhere in the Senate, thanks to an objection from a key Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham
(R-S.C.). Trump vetoed the border-wall resolution and has threatened to veto the Saudi resolution as well.
Still, there will be more Trump loyalty tests in the weeks ahead. Looking for ways to exploit GOP divisions, Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) will soon call a vote to override Trump’s veto of the resolution blocking the president’s declared emergency on the border.
GOP leaders saw 13 defections last month when the Democratic-led House initially voted to stop Trump’s emergency declaration. For the veto override, Minority Whip Steve Scalise
(R-La.), the top GOP vote counter, will be looking to keep those defections at roughly the same number.
“Our House Republican conference has stood strongly with President Trump on securing our nation’s border from Day One, and we supported the emergency declaration by an overwhelming margin,” said Scalise, who is also close to Trump. “That support has not wavered, and will be demonstrated strongly when we defeat Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to override the President’s veto.”
Trump keeps tight grip on GOP