Republican Capitol Hill aides believe they will retain their congressional majorities in next week’s elections, even as they expect their party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to lose, according to CQ Roll Call’s latest Capitol Insiders Survey.
Fifty-one percent of the Republican aides who took the poll say their side will hold 51 or more Senate seats come January, while another 21 percent predict a 50-50 split. And only one Republican aide who responded expects the Democrats to win the House.
The survey was emailed on Oct. 24 and filled out by 212 aides, of whom 98 are Republicans, 110 are Democrats and four are independents.
Staff members had until Oct. 31 to respond. So some were able to factor in FBI Director James B. Comey’s announcement that his agency was reviewing new emails potentially relevant to the bureau’s previously closed investigation of the private email server that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used while she was secretary of State.
Other aides had responded prior to Comey’s announcement last Friday. So even before that bombshell gave Trump new hope, the GOP aides were staying cool.
“I think what they’re saying is that we’ll be all right. Parties go through changes. This one is a unique change because Trump is an unusual candidate, but we’ll come out of this,” said Jeffrey Taylor, a former chief of staff to ex-Indiana GOP Rep. David McIntosh. Taylor is now managing partner of the lobbying firm U.S. Government Relations Intl.
A big rift
Still, the responses underscore the rift that’s arisen between the Republican base and its establishment in Washington. While Trump won the GOP primaries with ease and has lately drawn close to Clinton in the polls, a plurality of GOP respondents, 38 percent, said they planned to vote for a third-party candidate this year. Only 30 percent committed to Trump, and 18 percent said they’d back the other party’s candidate, Clinton.
The staffers are also standing by their party leaders in Congress, with 81 percent of Senate GOP aides approving of the job Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is doing and 83 percent of House aides approving of the job Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin is doing. That’s despite Ryan’s now-open feud with Trump and the efforts of some conservative media outlets to discredit the speaker.
Forty-one percent of GOP House aides who took the poll say the dispute has damaged Ryan’s standing in the House Republican Conference. But only 9 percent of them believe another Republican should challenge Ryan for the speaker’s job, and only 6 percent say he should step aside.
“The disconnect between aides on the Hill and the Republican electorate is illustrative of the broader issue in 2016: The electorate has a general distrust of Washington, D.C.,” said Lisa Camooso Miller, a partner at Reset Public Affairs who was once a spokeswoman for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. “The aides are working their tails off so they see it differently. That’s understandable.”
But to Democrats, it sounds like denialism.
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A Republican trinity?
“After this election, they are going to have three parties — the Paul Ryan-John Kasich-Marco Rubio wing, the Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton wing, and then the Trump people,” said Steve Elmendorf, who served as an aide to ex-House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and is now a partner at the lobbying and communications firm Subject Matter. “They need to figure out who’s leading the party and where it needs to go.”
Across the parties, the aides who filled out the survey agree on two things: Trump is going to lose and Republicans will retain control of the House. Not a single Democratic aide said Trump would win, while only 13 percent of the Republicans said he will.
But Democrats are more confident of a Senate victory than are Republicans, with 86 percent predicting they’ll control 51 seats or more and an additional 7 percent expecting a 50-50 split.
The aides, by and large, agree that Senate GOP incumbents John McCain in Arizona, Rubio in Florida and Rob Portman in Ohio will survive, and that others — Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Mark S. Kirk in Illinois — will be defeated. Republicans are also worried about Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania, both of whom Democrats expect to defeat.
But the GOP staffers expressed confidence in Roy Blunt in Missouri and Richard M. Burr in North Carolina, as well as Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for the seat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is vacating, and Rep. Todd Young, who is seeking to replace retiring GOP Sen. Dan Coats in Indiana.
Democrats were just as confident that their candidates in those races — former Sen. Evan Bayh in Indiana, Jason Kander in Missouri, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Deborah Ross in North Carolina — will win.
And the aides have different perspectives on what a Clinton presidency will mean in Washington, neither hopeful.
A plurality of the Democratic aides, 47 percent, predict it will have no effect on the gridlock afflicting the capital, while a plurality of the Republicans, 49 percent, believe Clinton would increase it.