Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Trump Is Toxic... Except Where He's Not?

Two U.S. Senate races, in two very different states, have been affected by the specter of Donald Trump in two very different ways this week.

First is Ohio, where the campaign of Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) is already in trouble because he's being blamed for the failure of Issue 1 (more on that below). To save himself, LaRose has decided he needs to mimic Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), and to be the correct answer to the question: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the Trumpiest one of all?"

On that point, LaRose found himself enmeshed in a mini-scandal, of sorts, this week. A person whose online handle is rnich99 has been tweeting out anti-Trump messages for many months. Things like: "[H]ow many times has DeSantis been impeached? How many rape settlements has he agreed to? Has he spent $40 million in campaign donor money to pay a bunch of lawyers for his transgressions?" The tweets basically disappeared into the void, until they were quoted by a prominent progressive blogger as evidence that the GOP is not united behind Trump.

As chance would have it, the press secretary to LaRose—in LaRose's capacity as Ohio Secretary of State, not in his capacity as a U.S. Senate candidate—is a fellow named Rob Nichols. It wasn't too hard to figure out that rnich99 and Rob Nichols are the same person. And so, Nichols is now LaRose's former press secretary, having been terminated for his anti-Trump rhetoric. LaRose thinks, possibly correctly, that his only path to the Republican nomination is to secure Trump's endorsement. So, he offered up a sacrifice to the Dear Leader.

The other state, meanwhile, is Nevada. The Republicans would very much like to win that seat, even though it won't be easy to topple the incumbent, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D). Half a dozen candidates have already declared, and they are all pretty mediocre, so it's hard to identify a frontrunner. That said, Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who served as Trump's Ambassador to Iceland, is right there among the frontrunners.

Gunter has the opposite problem of the one LaRose has. While LaRose wants to hold Trump close, given that Ohio is pretty red, and the state's primary electorate is pretty Trumpy, Gunter wants to hold his former boss at arm's length. First, because Nevada is purple, and Trump isn't nearly as popular as he is in Ohio. Second, because the state's Democrats have nothing much to vote for in the primary (Rosen is unopposed), so some of them might well re-register and try to stick it to the Republican who is most Trumpy.

Unfortunately for Gunter, his opponents have been doing a pretty good job of cutting him off at the knees. Their first line of attack is that he's a puppet of Trump (maybe so, maybe not). Their second is that when Gunter served as ambassador, he did a lousy, lazy job (true; since he does not like cold weather, he tried to work remotely, from California, and had to be ordered to actually go to Iceland, thus ending the world's first Zoom ambassadorship). The third is that he's a carpetbagger who doesn't live in Nevada (also true, albeit not related to Trump).

Ultimately, both of these stories are about relatively minor jockeying for position, and are not that important in and of themselves. We note them, however, because they serve as a reminder that Trump's legal problems not only complicate his own political hopes, they also complicate the lives of many other Republican candidates. In many cases, it's not going to be easy to decide whether to treat him as the King of the Republican Party, or as an anti-democratic 91-times-accused felon, or somewhere in between. And the correct answer to that question today might not be the correct answer to that question tomorrow, depending on what happens in court.

The behavior of Trump himself is another wildcard. On one hand, he might be so busy dealing with his legal problems that he doesn't have time to wade into many electoral contests, and to punish those who offend him. On the other hand, he might be looking desperately for opportunities to vent and/or to create a distraction. So, a candidate who pisses The Donald off might find themselves the target of 10% as much ire as would have been the case in 2020, or they might find themselves the target of 500% as much ire. Who knows? It's not an easy time to be a Republican candidate for office. (Z)

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