Republican aides are growing increasingly despondent about their party’s prospects in the 2016 presidential election, according to CQ Roll Call’s most recent Capitol Insiders Survey.
A majority of the GOP staffers who responded to the April survey now expect either Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to win the party’s nomination and nearly half of them — a solid plurality — think the Republican nominee will lose.
“The people I talk to can’t believe we are where we are at,” says former New Hampshire GOP Sen. Judd Gregg.
Meanwhile, Republicans are getting more pessimistic by the month about keeping control of the Senate. The percentage of GOP respondents who expect the Democrats to seize control has nearly tripled since December. Now, a strong plurality of the Republican aides, 47 percent, expect the Democrats to win the four or five seats they will need to take the majority, up from 16 percent in December.
It could be that the aides are worried about Trump’s effect down the ballot. “It should be a Republican year but the big question mark is Donald Trump,” says Don Nickles, the former Senate Republican whip from Oklahoma. “He’s unlike any Republican we’ve ever seen before,” since the public views him so negatively, Nickles said.
GOP fretting about the Senate majority has grown throughout the year. When CQ Roll Call asked aides in January, only 28 percent of Republican respondents were worried. That rose to 45 percent in March, and now it’s nearly half. By contrast, this month only 37 percent of the Republicans said they expected their side to maintain control.
Republicans are still predicting their House majority will persevere, though. Only 27 percent of the GOP aides think Democrats can make “significant” gains there. Democrats need to flip 30 seats to retake the majority.
CQ Roll Call emailed a questionnaire to Capitol Hill aides on April 19 and accepted responses until April 26. A total of 229 aides replied, of which 122 said they were Democrats and 105 Republicans. Two said they were independents.
Democrats were full of bravado. Of the 111 who responded to a question about the presidential election, 108 said the Democratic candidate would win, while only one expected the Republican to triumph. Two said they didn’t know.
If the two front-runners, Trump and Hillary Clinton, win their party nominations, nearly 7 in 10 of the Democratic respondents say Clinton would win the White House in a landslide, while the remainder expect her to win narrowly.
The Democrats are also feeling good about the Senate, where Republicans have 24 seats to defend, compared to only 10 for the Democrats. Nearly 9 in 10 of the Democratic respondents said they would take the chamber, with only 5 percent expecting the Republicans to retain control.
And the Democrats’ candidate recruiting is going well, says Blanche Lincoln, a former Democratic senator from Arkansas: “I think we’ve got a great slate of Democrats this election cycle.”
Democrats are getting bolder in their predictions for the House as well. Seven in 10 respondents now expect significant gains there, compared to 6 in 10 last month.
If the aides are to be believed, their bosses might as well go home and start campaigning now. Asked about the prospects for action on a number of hot button issues, from overhauling the budget process to tackling the corporate tax code, they said gridlock will reign.
They gave the best shot to pending legislation that would revamp criminal sentencing rules. And even on that they are not hopeful. Only a quarter of the aides said they expected Congress to act. That compares to nearly 4 in 10 when CQ Roll Call asked about the issue in December.
The biggest comedowns from the December survey were on cybersecurity and refugee legislation. Then, more than half of the aides expected Congress to act this year on each issue. Now, only 1 in 5 expects a cybersecurity bill to move forward and only 4 in 100 expect a refugee bill.
As with many an election year, “the politics are getting in the way,” says Kris Balderston, the general manager of PR firm FleishmanHillard’s Washington office and a former deputy chief of staff for Clinton when the candidate was New York’s junior senator.
The one bright note was appropriations. On that, slightly more than half of both Republican and Democratic respondents said they expected Congress would enact some of the 12 annual spending bills this year. And they are a bit more confident than they were in March. Back then, exactly half of the Republican aides and 45 percent of the Democratic aides said they’d get some of the bills done.