Donald Trump’s campaign is faltering, but hasn’t collapsed. His cause is losing, but isn’t yet lost. And the uncertainty poses a danger to Republicans who will appear on the ballot with him next month.
I’m looking at you, Johnny Isakson.
Consider the last three days: On Monday in Washington, Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House, didn’t order his members to abandon Trump’s presidential campaign, but his advice amounted to a vote of no-confidence. Ryan told House Republicans they were free to embrace or flee the GOP presidential candidate — as their races and consciences dictated.
On Tuesday in Atlanta, a bipartisan, all-female political panel on the race for the White House gathered at Georgia State University. It was an event with some promise, coming hard on the debut of the 2005 video in which Trump explained his sexually aggressive version of the birds and bees to Billy Bush.
In the end, the women spent little time on the Internet bomb that has sent the Trump campaign into a polling spiral. Possibly because there was solid, bipartisan agreement that the recorded words belonged to an unvarnished cad.
Donna Brazile, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, breezily referred to “President-elect Hillary Clinton.” But it was Margaret Hoover, a Republican and founder of a Super PAC dedicated to putting gay rights on the conservative agenda, who was the afternoon’s provocateur.
“I really hope that Donald Trump loses spectacularly. For my version of the Republican party to be ascendant, I need a definitive loss,” Hoover said. “I need for that idea of what the Republican party is to really be disproved as viable, politically. If it’s very, very close you’ll embolden hold-outs who say, ‘Let’s wait four more years and do this again.’”
It’s safe to say that Hoover’s wouldn’t be the majority opinion at a Georgia GOP convention.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the Clinton campaign had become so confident of its chances that it was considering – again — the addition of two states to its list of battlegrounds: Arizona and Georgia.
I checked with Republicans who have access to unpublished polling in Georgia, and was told that Democrats wouldn’t be acting on a fantasy. Trump is indeed at risk of losing this state. Again.
Put those three days together and you have this: The GOP isn’t just headed for defeat in the race for the White House. It’s headed for defeat and an immediate civil war over what it means to be a Republican.
Isakson, locked in a three-way race for a third term, could quickly find himself caught in that post-election crossfire.
Let me explain: That same New York Times article on Wednesday reported that Priorities USA, a Super PAC dedicated to Clinton’s election, could soon direct some of its cash to boosting Democrats in some U.S. Senate races.
If Democrats are serious about helping Clinton here, that Senate effort will include Georgia, where Democrat Jim Barksdale has less than a month to put more bite into what has been a rather milquetoast campaign. To win Georgia for Clinton, Isakson must be undermined. (Allen Buckley is the Libertarian in the contest.)
Barksdale has sacked his top staffers and has replaced them with a crew that intends to tie Donald Trump around Isakson’s neck — a fate that the Republican incumbent has thus far avoided.
The idea would be to force a dilemma upon the Republican: Deny Trump, and lose the presidential candidate’s fervent supporters in Georgia. Or embrace Trump more tightly, and lose white suburban women.
Seth Weathers, a leading Trump supporter here, knows what he would recommend. “It’d be a dumb move to abandon Trump. In the primary, he won all but four counties in the entire state,” Weathers said.
But successfully deprive Isakson of either group, and the GOP incumbent could finish with less than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 8 and be forced into a nine-week runoff. Just as his national party enters into a post-partum meltdown over who to blame for Trump’s loss.
In Washington, a leadership fight could deprive Isakson of attention and resources. In Georgia, Isakson could face the prospect of rallying a sullen GOP electorate.
Weathers isn’t ready to concede a Trump defeat. But if it happens, he acknowledges, Trump supporters here will be ticked. “They would be beyond disappointed — and disappointed in our nation,” he said.
Consider this just another example of chaos theory as applied to politics. A TV star brags of his power to accost women without penalty and, 11 years later, a safe U.S. Senate seat becomes just a little less so.