Remember when political reporters crowed about what a masterful play Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had made when he lined up his caucus to acquit Donald Trump without hearing from a single witness? Yeah, that acquittal came on February 6 when U.S. senators were already getting briefed on the seriousness of the coronavirus' spread abroad.
But Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, fell all over themselves to make sure Trump was at the helm when the pandemic hit U.S. shores. Now, what once looked like a promising cycle for Senate Republicans has turned entirely treacherous precisely because the caucus is saddled with Trump as their standard bearer.
Politico reports the party is directing nearly its entire $100 million war chest at saving the seats of eight incumbent senators while the few GOP candidates aiming to defeat a Democrat have been left almost entirely to their own devices. With the exception of funneling a little money into the effort to defeat Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, they simply don't have the resources to play offense.
The seat of Democratic Sen. Gary Peters from Michigan, for instance, once seemed like a flippable seat. But as Trump has tanked in the state and Joe Biden is presently positioned very well there, Senate Republicans have left Republican candidate John James to fend for himself.
Instead, GOP groups, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund have been trying to bolster their defenses in Georgia, Iowa, and Montana—three states that weren't even on the radar as potential Democratic pick ups when the cycle started.
Perhaps even more striking has been the GOP spending to protect seats that Democrats weren't even truly contesting yet. In Montana and Georgia, for example, Republicans went up with defensive ads before Democrats even got there.
“It's unusual when the other side goes there first and expands the map for you,” said J.B. Poersch, president of the Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC.
The bottom line is that Republicans have been left with little choice but to protect a growing map of incumbents who are inextricably linked to a president who has presided over 165,000 American deaths and counting while decimating a decade of economic growth. In fact, Trump is such a drag now that McConnell has reportedly given GOP senators the green light to distance themselves from him whenever necessary. Yeah, good luck with that after four years of letting Trump trash the country without raising hardly a single objection.
"They're just not making the early investments they would if the president or the party was running better in the polls," said Saul Anuzis, a former GOP state party chair in Michigan.
And a giant part of the party's downfall is due to McConnell jamming that acquittal vote down the throats of his caucus members. Masterful.