Trump dis­or­ders the GOP House

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - E.J. Dionne’s email ad­dress is ej­dionne@wash­ Twit­ter: @EJ­Dionne.

It is a mes­sage Democrats will be send­ing in sub­ur­ban precincts all over the United States dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign’s fi­nal days: De­feat­ing Don­ald Trump isn’t enough. Fully re­ject­ing Trump­ism also means rout­ing Repub­li­can House and Se­nate can­di­dates who showed any am­biva­lence in push­ing back against a nom­i­nee so many up­scale vot­ers re­gard with hor­ror.

Ru­dra Kapila, a Demo­cratic or­ga­nizer, ex­plained the mis­sion to a group of vol­un­teers who filled a cheer­ful sub­ur­ban home here just out­side of Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day night to work a party phone bank. “The idea,” she said, “is to get folks to vote Demo­crat down the bal­lot.”

It’s an ob­jec­tive that re­ally mat­ters in Vir­ginia’s 10th Con­gres­sional District, where Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Bar­bara Com­stock faces Demo­crat LuAnn Ben­nett in one of the most closely con­tested House races in the coun­try. If Democrats are to have any chance of gain­ing the 30 seats they need to take over the House -- a long shot still -- they have to win in places like this, where Hil­lary Clin­ton is ex­pected to en­joy large mar­gins.

Com­stock, a staunch con­ser­va­tive and long­time Clin­ton critic, is well aware that Trump is poi­son for many of her con­stituents. She sup­ported Marco Ru­bio in the Repub­li­can pri­mary and crit­i­cized Trump along the way. When the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” video of Trump’s crude de­scrip­tions of sex­ual as­sault was re­leased, Com­stock de­scribed it as “dis­gust­ing, vile and dis­qual­i­fy­ing.” She said she couldn’t vote for him, and urged him to with­draw.

But for Ben­nett, it took Com­stock far too long to get to that point. “My ques­tion to her is: Where have you been? Why now and not be­fore?” Ben­nett said in an in­ter­view af­ter she greeted the vol­un­teers. “She has been one of the many, many en­ablers of Don­ald Trump. She spent most of this pres­i­den­tial cam­paign danc­ing on the head of a pin.”

Many vul­ner­a­ble sub­ur­ban Repub­li­can can­di­dates have waltzed around Trump be­cause they need votes both from his sup­port­ers and also from in­de­pen­dents and Repub­li­cans who loathe him. Kelly Ward, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, said the un­cer­tain trum­pets sounded by so many GOP can­di­dates are hurt­ing them twice over: They look un­prin­ci­pled to anti-Trump vot­ers, and dis­loyal to Trump’s ar­dent back­ers. In some House dis­tricts, Repub­li­cans are get­ting mail­ers re­mind­ing them of the in­con­stancy of their party’s can­di­date.

How­ever the re­sults come in, these con­gres­sional elec­tions rep­re­sent a sea change in how the two par­ties view their op­por­tu­ni­ties. Many of the more ru­ral and work­ing-class dis­tricts that were friendly to Democrats when the party took back the House in 2006 are now re­li­ably Repub­li­can. Democrats have moved their hopes up the class scale and fur­ther into the sub­urbs.

I asked my re­searchers Adam Waters and Mo­hamad Batal to help com­pare the 31 seats Democrats picked up when they re­gained the ma­jor­ity in 2006 with the 38 seats the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port de­fines as most com­pet­i­tive this year. The 2006 dis­tricts were, on av­er­age, 29.2 per­cent ru­ral; the 2016 tar­gets only 19.3 per­cent. Ad­just­ing for in­fla­tion, the 2016 seats had an av­er­age me­dian in­come $5,157 higher than the 2006 dis­tricts. And bear in mind some parts of the coun­try suf­fered in­come de­cline in that pe­riod.

Be­cause of district lines drawn mostly by Repub­li­cans and the clus­ter­ing of younger and mi­nor­ity vot­ers in big metropoli­tan ar­eas, pick­ing up the 30 House seats Democrats need to take con­trol re­mains a reach. They will have to be bol­stered by a high level of par­tic­i­pa­tion from their par­ti­sans, an aban­don­ment of the bot­tom of the GOP ticket by some share of anti-es­tab­lish­ment Trump vot­ers, and a Trump-in­duced slide in Repub­li­can turnout.

Vir­ginia’s Ben­nett sees Trump cre­at­ing a “lose-lose” sit­u­a­tion for her op­po­nent. That’s why she and scores of other Democrats will not let vot­ers for­get the name that sits, like a very heavy weight, at the top of the Repub­li­can ticket.

EJ Dionne Colum­nist

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