Until July of last year, you were just a Republican member of Congress minding your own business. You were going to county fish fries, raising money for your re-elect, voting when you were supposed to (and how you were supposed to), and doing just enough to keep the tea partyers back home from lighting their hair on fire and running a primary against you.
But then Donald Trump happened. He called Congress a bunch of losers. You managed to keep the government open in December, and he said you — congressional Republicans — had thrown in the towel. He filled stadiums by saying Washington is full of stupid people (you) who make bad deals (you) and ask him for money (you again) and will do almost anything for it (that’s you, too). And now, Donald Trump might be at the top of your ticket.
Before you hit the panic button or pack your bags, I’ve taken the liberty of asking some of the best consultants in GOP politics what advice they have for members of Congress who may find themselves in this potentially unsavory predicament. Should you ignore the presidential race like a bad rash and hope it goes away? Or should you get on the Trump train now and hang on for the ride? After all, he’s obviously doing something right.
It’s a hard call, but here’s the free-but-valuable advice from your new kitchen cabinet:
Talk to your constituents. If Trump-mentum has infused your local GOP, you better know about it and understand why it’s happening. Is it the economy? Latent Obama Derangement Syndrome? Was it something you said? Get in front of your people now. “Members better have their fingers on the pulse of voters to ensure they are making smartest moves possible in this political climate,” advises Ron Bonjean, a veteran of House and Senate leadership staffs.
Keep Your Politics Local.
With a figure as polarizing as Trump at the top of the ticket, the safest place for a member of Congress will be among the hyper-local issues voters deal with every day. In New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte could be running alongside a Trump time-bomb in November, but right now she is smartly spending her time on the heroin epidemic
that’s gripped her state. Even voters who won’t go for Trump could support Ayotte if they feel New Hampshire is her focus. For the seven GOP senators in states President Barack Obama won in 2008 or 2012, another consultant advised they’ll need to include Democrats, too. “Focus on bipartisan issues that are big at home. That's part of what they'll need to be doing.”
Keep Your Plan Made-to-Order. Bonjean warns there’s no one-size-fits all plan for the Republican caucus to deal with a political anomaly like Trump. Incumbent Republicans in safe seats may be wise to support any Republican nominee, including Trump, if not all of his policies. Other should get ready to bail. “Some members may completely walk away from him if necessary either by wholeheartedly opposing his candidacy or through taking opposing stands on his controversial policies,” Bonjean said.
Finally, learn from Trump. Did you know you weren’t born speaking from NRCC talking points? And that even your own children don’t know or care what a subcommittee chairman does? If Trump has done all Americans a favor, it’s that he has blown up the old model of a smooth, robotic, programmed politician and replaced it with ideas he clearly believes in and words that actual human people use in their everyday lives. You do remember actual human people, don’t you? They drive carpools and run late to meetings and should probably lose 10 pounds and they’re trying the best they can. You used to be one of them and you can be again. The voters in your district will thank you for it. And for that, you can thank Donald Trump.
*And not to worry, Democrats in Congress. You may have a campaign emergency of your own in Bernard Sanders. I’ll have your emergency kit for a Sanders nomination in next week’s column.
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