The public opinion polls indicate that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are locked in a tight presidential race and grassroots Republicans say party leaders should join them on the Trump bandwagon.
But the latest CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey shows that Republican congressional aides are not there yet and don’t believe the mogul has a shot to win, no matter what the polls are showing.
Only 42 percent of GOP respondents to CQ Roll Call’s poll said they planned to vote for Trump in November. By contrast, nearly half said they either wouldn’t vote or would vote for a third-party candidate. Nine percent said they’d vote for Clinton.
At the same time, nearly two out of three GOP aides who responded to the survey foresee a Clinton victory in November.
Rory Cooper, a former spokesman for Eric Cantor of Virginia when he was the Republican House leader, says aides just don’t buy Trump’s argument that he can expand the Republican presidential playing field into states the GOP has lost since the 1980s, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Demographic reality in the form of the growth in minority populations indicates that Trump can’t build an electoral majority based almost wholly on white voters.
“He is under water with women, young people, Hispanics, and with African-Americans. To make inroads in blue states, you have to make inroads into those communities,” says Cooper, who is now a managing director at Purple Strategies, a political consulting firm.
Neil Bradley, a former aide to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California who now is the chief strategy officer of the Conservative Reform Network, an activist group, says there’s good cause to trust the aides more than the public opinion polls. In them, “you have both a more impacted and more educated feedback group,” he says.
There are other reasons to distrust the national polls: They are trying to gauge attitudes at a time when the Republican primaries are over and the party is coming together, while Democratic primary voters are still choosing between Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Then there’s the artistry that goes into modern polling at a time when a good telephone response rate is 9 percent. Pollsters weight responses based on how they think different demographic groups will turn out. “It can have a tremendous impact,” says Bradley.
In other words, no one knows if the 2016 electorate will look more like the ones that elected President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, in which relatively high numbers of minorities and young people voted, or like 2004, when George W. Bush won because of overwhelming support from whites.
CQ Roll Call’s poll, like almost all Internet surveys, is not scientific and the results are not weighted. Nonetheless, it’s shown consistent concern about Trump among GOP respondents over many months.
Aides were most recently contacted by email on May 17 and asked to respond by May 24. The survey drew responses from 183 staffers, including 100 Republicans, 81 Democrats and two independents.
A big concern for the aides is whether Trump will drag down Republican senators and representatives in tough races. Fifty-six percent of the GOP aides said they now expect Democrats to pick up the four or five seats they will need to control the Senate next year, while more than a third are worried that Democrats will take back a “significant” number of House seats. Democrats need to win 30 seats to gain the House majority, a result considered unthinkable until Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee.
By contrast, the Democratic respondents were supremely confident. All but one staffer who answered a question about whether Trump or Clinton would win the election said Clinton. Meanwhile, 91 percent of the Democrats expect they’ll control the Senate next year and 70 percent predict their party will make “significant” gains in the House.
If Democrats have anything to worry about it’s complacency, says Brendan Daly, a former spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “It is smart of Democrats to be worried about Trump and about turnout,” he says. “Clinton has to make sure she does enough to get Sanders supporters on her side.”
On policy matters, the aides who responded to the Capitol Insiders Survey put little stock in the idea that a post-election lame-duck session this year could be fruitful.
If Clinton wins the presidency and Democrats take the Senate, it might behoove the current, Republican Senate to approve Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and for Congress to approve ratification of a trade deal with Pacific nations that Clinton has opposed during the campaign.
But aides aren’t buying that argument. To do the former would be an embarrassing reversal for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who’s promised that Garland will not get a vote.
To approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership would require House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to overrule the objections of many of his more conservative members, placing his speakership at risk.
Nearly half of respondents, a strong plurality, said Congress would not approve ratification of the trade agreement, while nearly six in 10 said the Senate would not approve Garland.
“I’d be surprised if they do much more than keep the government open,” says Sam Geduldig, a former aide to Ohio GOP Rep. John A. Boehner who now is a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm.
On that issue, Republican aides said they don’t believe their leaders can even follow through on their promise of an orderly appropriations process. More than half expect the year to end with a continuing resolution carrying spending decisions over into January, the worst-case scenario apart from a government shutdown.