Donald Trump is making a run at Hillary Clinton in the national polls. On Capitol Hill, Republican aides’ support for their party’s nominee is at an all-time high.
But that’s still not all that high.
In the latest CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey of congressional aides, conducted in September, 44 percent of GOP respondents said they thought the real estate mogul would win. The previous high was 36 percent.
Meanwhile, just as Trump has consolidated GOP voters nationwide, he’s making inroads among reluctant Republican aides. Even so, only 49 percent of respondents say they’re voting for him, up from 42 percent in July.
“The trend lines are good but not where it needs to be,” said Neil Bradley, a former aide to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. Bradley is now chief strategy officer at the Conservative Reform Network, an advocacy group.
Still, Trump’s increased strength in the national polls has Republican aides shifting, and their support could consolidate further. “Regardless of their initial reluctance to support Donald Trump, they know the probability of their priorities advancing are far higher with him as president,” said Lisa Camooso Miller, a onetime spokeswoman for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Miller is now a partner at Reset Public Affairs, a crisis communications firm.
Trump aside, the GOP aides are feeling much better about keeping their jobs. Six in 10 say their party will keep the Senate now, up from 44 percent in July. And not a single Republican staffer who took the poll thinks the GOP will lose the House.
Indeed, they no longer fear a wave election. “All the polls are getting tighter. Trump’s been disciplined and everyone is cautiously optimistic,” said Sam Geduldig, a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm and a former aide to GOP Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio before Boehner was speaker.
The survey was emailed to aides Sept. 13, and they had until Sept. 20 to respond. Of the 186 who filled out the poll, 99 said they were Republicans, 82 were Democrats and five were independents.
Democratic respondents have brimmed with confidence all year, and they were no less optimistic this time about their chances in the presidential race and in the Senate.
But they did throw cold water on the idea that Democrats could also retake the House this year. Only four Democratic aides said they could win the 30 seats they’d need to do that, while 70 said the Republicans would retain control.
In contrast to their Republican counterparts, Democratic aides surveyed are united behind Clinton. All but three Democratic respondents said they would vote for her and all but two said Clinton would win. Meanwhile, more than eight in 10 predict they will take the Senate.
President Barack Obama, who was an albatross for Democrats in the 2014 campaign, is helping them this year, said Brendan Daly, a former spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “It’s fortunate that President Obama’s ratings are fairly strong. That’s helping,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, a picture is also emerging of how the 114th Congress will wrap up its work. More than eight out of 10 aides predict that Congress will finish up this year with a fiscal 2017 omnibus, a victory for leaders and appropriators over conservative hard-liners who are lobbying to push off spending decisions to the new Congress.
A similar margin says that Congress will finally resolve the debate over funding to combat the Zika virus. But they’re not expecting much else.
Merrick Garland? Nearly two in three say the Senate will not confirm the Supreme Court nominee. The Trans-Pacific Partnership? More than seven in 10 say Congress will not approve ratification of the trade deal.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors of a very busy lame-duck. I have to believe that after this election cycle, everyone will have reached a level of fatigue that the ability to make much happen will be impossible,” Miller said.