A Trump Nomination – And His Supporters – Is Bad News For Incumbent Republicans Republican politicians up for election are scrambling: What if Trump leads the ticket? NPR's Rachel Martin asks strategist Rob Jesmer how candidates are addressing the Trump issue.

A Trump Nomination – And His Supporters – Is Bad News For Incumbent Republicans

A Trump Nomination – And His Supporters – Is Bad News For Incumbent Republicans

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Republican politicians up for election are scrambling: What if Trump leads the ticket? NPR's Rachel Martin asks strategist Rob Jesmer how candidates are addressing the Trump issue.


And fair to say, it's been a pretty bad week for Donald Trump. He's had to backtrack and clarify remarks he made about abortion. He has had to defend his campaign manager who was charged with battery. And polls have him trailing Ted Cruz ahead of Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin. But even if Cruz wins that race, Donald Trump holds a significant lead in the delegate count overall. That means politicians down the ballot, senators and congresspeople up for re-election this year, must contend with what it would mean to campaign with Donald Trump as the nominee. That's something Rob Jesmer has been thinking a lot about. He's the former executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And he joins me now in our studios here in Washington. Welcome to the program.

ROB JESMER: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: The conventional wisdom out there, as you know, seems to be that Trump winning the nomination is not a good thing for the down ticket, not a good thing for incumbent Republicans. What do you think?

JESMER: I share the conventional wisdom, Rachel. I think that, you know, if you're a Senate candidate, you're looking for as much predictability as you can - that's what you want. And as you've seen with Donald Trump just this past week on his abortion comments, you can be at a place where every other day you're forced to defend Donald Trump's comments. And I just think that's not what you want to be as a campaign. So I think a lot of people have kind of processed that. I think the people who are - where people have not processed is in these states - a lot of these states the get-out-the-vote effort is largely dependent on the presidential campaign and has been for years on both sides of the aisle.

MARTIN: People are motivated by who's at the top.

JESMER: Not even motivated by it, but it's also the actual mechanics of getting voters out to a vote has been largely done by the campaigns and in conjunction with their national committees, so the RNC or the DNC. You know, I don't particularly think - I know this is somewhat counterintuitive - but I don't think from a technical point of view that the Trump campaign has run a very good campaign. So why does that matter? Well, if you're in one of these swing states, you want to make sure that the people at the top of the ticket is having - technically proficient in their get-out-the-vote operation. It's not very sophisticated.

MARTIN: And you just don't think that the Trump campaign has that capacity.

JESMER: Well, what would suggest that he has? I mean, how about nothing?

MARTIN: Isn't there a case to be made, which many are making in the Trump camp, that the Trump coalition - they say, you know, he's pulling in independents in record numbers. They claim he's going to pull in Democrats. And if you get those people on Election Day to be thinking that they would vote for a Republican to be the president, doesn't it extend that those same people would open their mind to voting Republican down ticket?

JESMER: Yeah, I don't think so. And I don't think that - I think there's a couple things, one. One, Rachel, is I don't - this - they're not really getting new voters. They're getting voters who have voted before who have - some of them have decided to vote in the Republican Party. But they're likely - probably conservative voters and chose not to vote - not vote in primaries or caucuses beforehand. But there's not this, like, rush of new voters. Secondly, I saw a poll just when I was walking in the studio that, you know, he was losing in Missouri to Secretary Clinton. You know, we saw a poll last week in Michigan where he was losing to Secretary Clinton, and Governor Kasich was winning.

So, like, it - there's - it's - there is a unique coalition of people behind him. But that has so far not - not at all transferred into polling in the general election. And to think any of the primary turnout is indicative of what's going to happen in a general election - that that's going to be helpful to us - there's no supporting evidence of it - zero.

MARTIN: You seem really frustrated (laughter). As someone who has been in this business for a long time, what do you make of his success? Why is it happening?

JESMER: Well, this is a - one is I think there is a great deal of frustration with the Obama administration. I also think that we have created this ecosystem on the right - I shouldn't say we have created this ecosystem. This ecosystem has been created on the right where constantly they're telling people that the only issue - the only reason why we have not accomplished, you know, legislative goal - our legislative goals of a smaller government and less spending, what have you, is because Republican leadership has not stood up to President Obama. And of course that's false. This is the bottom line.

You can't do anything in this country in Congress without compromising. And so I'm frustrated in the sense that we have a group of people out there who believe that the problem is the Republicans. And as a Republican and a conservative and one who thinks the Obama administration has been very harmful to our country, I think it's pretty clear the problem is the president (laughter) and that - and the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: Although his approval ratings are at a, you know, a high in the - the highest in three years.

JESMER: I'm just saying as a - if you are - I'm not - if you are a public - my point is this, if you want to take the country in a different direction, which I do as a Republican, I do not believe the first thing to do that is to change the leadership of the Republican Party. I think the first thing to do that is to win the White House and to govern. And so I think, look, what's going to happen is - and sadly - I think Secretary Clinton, by any measure, is the weakest Democratic nominee in 50 years. Like, it's kind of hard to argue. Even if you are a liberal person, you would - it's, like, her - just from a structural point of view, she's very weak. And we are on our way to losing to her. In fact, I think it's likely we lose to her and we take out many Senate seats and House seats with it.

And so - then I think, hopefully, in November we'll wake up and say - we'll reflect honestly about what we've done to our party and how we govern and how we win elections. And we win elections in off-years. We never win them on the on-years. And the ones when we do win, we have a very difficult time governing. And so I just think we're going to get - we're going to get what we deserve.

MARTIN: Rob Jesmer is a partner at FP1 Strategies. He joined us in our studios here in D.C.

Rob, thanks so much.

JESMER: Thank you.

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