Speaker Paul Ryan told the Wisconsin GOP convention that he believes Donald Trump will be an “asset” to GOP candidates in their campaigns this fall.
Ryan told reporters later he doesn’t think controversies surrounding Trump are resonating with voters in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“The president is strong in these states,” Ryan said. “He’s an asset. … Whether I’m running around southern Wisconsin or America, nobody is talking about Stormy Daniels. Nobody is talking about Russia. They’re talking about their lives and their problems. They’re talking about their communities, they’re talking about jobs, they’re talking about the economy, they’re talking about national security.”
Ryan defended his and the Republican record in Congress, including the tax overhaul law he championed, saying “we have gotten a ton of things done.”
But he, like other Republicans speaking at the convention before him, warned it could all be quickly be undone.
“The blue wave, as they say it, they want to take it all away,” Ryan cautioned.
Ryan may be spouting political boilerplate when it comes to Trump being an asset, but it raises an interesting issue. How much weight will voters give to their opinion of the president when voting for a congressman or senator?
Clearly, in strong GOP districts, Trump’s invisible presence won’t be felt. But what about the two dozen plus swing districts where independents are likely to decide the race?
There are 23 House seats currently held by Republicans that are in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Some of those incumbents have announced their retirement, but Democrats are targeting these races. Republicans will target the 12 districts won by Trump in 2016 with a Democratic incumbent. If Republicans can pick off a few of those seats, Democrats are going to be hard-pressed to flip the House.
The question for GOP candidates is whether to embrace the president or run away from him. Many victorious GOP primary candidates eagerly sought Trump’s endorsement. For them, a Trump appearance would be a big boost.
But in the 23 races in districts won by Clinton, Trump will not be as welcome. While the president’s approval numbers have been improving in the last few weeks, he is still underwater with independent voters. This puts any candidate in a real bind. On the one hand, the candidate can’t stray too far from the president, given the enthusiasm for him among the base. But the closer he gets to Trump, the more he will stir up anti-Trump sentiment.
Trump’s approval numbers are rising along with Republican polling numbers on the congressional generic ballot. Once trailing by double digits, the latest generic polling average from RealClear Politics shows the GOP within striking distance.
The “Blue Wave” is still possible but Democratic hopes for a House takeover are fading. And for good or bad, Trump’s influence will be felt on several dozen races across the country.