According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Donald Trump is losing the election by about 15 points. Given the spread of the coronavirus, Trump’s impeachment trial, and the rivalry between the mainstream media and the White House, it doesn’t sound surprising. But if you look closer, a few glaring statistics stand out:
- 81% of Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
- Almost three quarters of Republicans believe mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.
- 63% of Republicans want to restart the economy, even if it enables the coronavirus outbreak.
It might seem obvious that Republicans agree with our president. Donald Trump is the brand name of the Republican party, so of course Republicans would agree with his talking points. But how has party loyalty impacted elections before?
Over the past century, there have been many scandals: Watergate, Iran-Contra, or Monica Lewinsky, for instance. Even now, party loyalty is at an all-time high; voters nowadays rarely cross party lines. Take it from our president himself:
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” — Donald Trump
And short of committing murder, the President isn’t wrong. Despite clear evidence of wrongdoing, party loyalty seems to trump all (pun definitely intended). Here’s a look at a couple of instances in which misdemeanors contested party loyalty:
Even though the Watergate break-in took place in 1972, it wasn’t until 1974 when Nixon resigned. Before the full scheme came to light, many believed that the scandal was just petty politics. But looking closer at impeachment proceedings began, Republicans were skeptical of Democrats’ claims.
On the “Saturday Night Massacre,” Nixon fired the special prosecutor on the case, leading to a series of resignations that only hurt his case.
But of course, Nixon’s Republicans backed him up. On all three articles of impeachment, ten of seventeen Republicans on the judiciary committee voted against all articles.
Nixon’s formal resignation only came when Republicans started to leave him prior to the full house vote. Even then, Republicans thought the Democrats had been excessive; Nixon still remains the only president ever to resign.
This scandal involves the misdemeanor of senior administration officials, who sold weapons to the Khomeini government of Iran, which was under an embargo. These funds were then used to fund the Contra in Nicaragua.
When this was revealed, the Democrats controlled the house, so if the evidence was damning enough, they probably could’ve moved for impeachment. But they didn’t.
When congress formed a committee to investigate the White House, they assembled fifteen Democrats and eleven Republicans. While the majority report for the committee concluded that the administration had broken the law, eight Republicans wrote a minority report, contesting the findings of the majority.
In the end, the Republicans defending Reagan and Reagan’s sheer popularity saved him. The only defections came from the centrist wing of the Republican party.
Clinton: Monica Lewinsky Affair
On the other hand, party loyalty certainly didn’t save Bill Clinton’s impeachment. While Democrats didn’t control the house, Republicans only held a small majority. On the counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, party lines defined the votes: it wasn’t surprising that Clinton was impeached.
In the Senate, however, party loyalty kept Clinton in office. Because removal requires two-thirds of the Senate to vote for removal and the Democrats held forty-five seats at the time, Democrats were able to save Clinton’s reputation.
But unlike Trump’s impeachment, Republicans did cross the aisle to defend Clinton. In our most recent impeachment trial, only one senator crossed the aisle. And that was Mitt Romney.
The Race in Alabama
I was particularly intrigued with this race, even while it seems insignificant. Typically, an Alabama primary runoff wouldn’t draw this much attention, but it has for two significant reasons.
First, it’s the Republicans’ easiest path to take from the Democrats, given that Alabama’s current senator, Doug Jones, ran against an alleged rapist. But more importantly, it’s because Trump’s former attorney general and the former senator of Alabama was running against a college football coach endorsed by Trump.
And Jeff Sessions hasn’t lost a race in his life. Up until now.
In 2016, Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, which probably gave him a pathway to his job in the Department of Justice. But his relationship with the President began to sour after a move that has jeopardized his career: he recused himself from the Russia investigation. A year later, Trump fired Sessions, and more recently, Trump called Sessions a “disaster who will let us all down.”
But the most astonishing part of this election isn’t that Trump endorsed Tuberville. Given the tensions between Sessions and Trump, some might’ve even expected it. It’s that his endorsement actually panned out.
In the 2017 Alabama special election, Trump endorsed Senator Luther Strange. When he lost, he endorsed his opponent, Roy Moore. He also lost.
The fact that Sessions, a seasoned Senator, lost to a football coach shows one thing: Republican party allegiance is shifting from establishment Republicans to the President. And who knows how that’ll affect the elections in November?