The Dole strategy is bananasBottom Highlights, Politically Aware Thursday, August 18th, 2016
Commentary: Politically Aware
By October of his 1996 re-election campaign, President Bill Clinton held a double digit lead over Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican nominee. Seeking to keep the congressional majorities they won in 1994, Republican leaders made an unusual move. Instead of feigning optimism and relying on the coat tails of an unlikely Dole victory to protect vulnerable congressmembers, they used the predicted Dole defeat to hype the Republican Congress as a “check” on President Clinton. The money followed the messaging, with the Republican National Committee (RNC) shifting resources to congressional races at Dole’s expense. Clinton won a second term in November, but Republicans lost only two seats in the House and won two in the Senate, keeping control of both.
As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expands her lead over Donald Trump, establishment Republicans are suggesting a similar strategy. Seventy Republicans signed a letter to the RNC, suggesting it stop supporting Trump and try to prop up vulnerable members of Congress. Trump has been divisive and dangerous, but trying to replicate the Dole strategy is, in a word, bananas.
Not because it’s too soon, as some have suggested. As Republican Sen. Susan Collins noted in her Never Trump statement, “There will be no ‘new’ Donald Trump.” If you believe he is a drag on the ticket, better to cut him loose quickly. Early voting is far more important than it was in 1996, so the argument must be made before the Clinton machine banks votes for down ballot Democrats.
The reason the Dole strategy won’t work is that Trump is not Dole, and his supporters aren’t your typical Republicans.
Dole is a long term Republican, a war veteran and a team player. Told his duty was to fall on his sword to save that party, he was likely to do it. Not so with The Donald, who teased Speaker Ryan with his own words in retribution for being late to the Trump bandwagon and called embattled Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte “weak.” Within minutes of the RNC pulling the financial plug, Traitor Priebus and Reneging Ryan would be the victims of a Trump Twitter tirade, vilified as the losers who rigged the system.
Team Trump would be right there with him. Dole’s voters were Republicans first and might have listened to party leaders, but as Trump has noted sadly, but probably correctly, he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voters. A slighted Trump might march his voters off an electoral cliff, and the RNC wouldn’t have the power to stop him. If they did, he wouldn’t be the nominee. The best the RNC can do is work with Trump so that he, and his voters, don’t turn their sights on the party.
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