Trump and the down-ballot
With the last primaries now in the record books, Donald Trump won 44.2% of all Republican primary votes cast. In 2008, John McCain won 46.7%. The last Republican to win an open presidential election contest, George W. Bush, won 60.4% of the total Republican primary votes cast in 2000. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 52.1% and came up short in November despite the unpopularity of President Obama among many voters.
Note also that while in the earlier 2016 primaries Republican turnout swamped Democrat turnout, in later primaries, the Democrats were catching up. Tuesday, in the Republican states of Montana and South Dakota, the Republicans did win the turnout race, but the margin was measured by a few percentage points. In the swing state of New Mexico, Democrat turnout was several times Republican turnout, as it also was in the Democrat states of New Jersey and California.
Into this mix comes the fact that the only incumbent Republican congressman to be defeated during the 2016 primary season is also the only one Trump explicitly endorsed and then assisted via robo-calls. Rep. Renee Ellmers won 24% of the vote in a three-way race in the special congressional primary. The Democrats are crowing over that, spreading the narrative that Trump will be a millstone around the necks of all Republicans in November.
The truth is that Ellmers, who in 2015 had a rating of 71 from the American Conservative Union (ACU), was already in deep political trouble when she endorsed Trump after the March 15 N.C. primary. A few weeks earlier, Ellmers had offered halfhearted support of John Kasich as "the only adult in the race." Ellmers was already unpopular for breaking several of her promises from prior campaigns when the last-minute federal court ordered redistricting of North Carolina congressional seats in February. That move saw her lose some 80% of her district in the reshuffling of boundaries. Most of it was replaced by areas that had been in the district of another incumbent Republican, George Holding, whose 2015 ACU rating was 100. Indeed, the new lines were drawn in such a way that a cynic might suspect that other N.C. Republican office holders wanted Ellmers to leave the political scene, as it had become embarrassing to have to defend her. Unfortunately, facts have had little traction compared to narratives and outright lies in recent political battles, and the narrative that has been forming today is that Ellmers lost because of Trump rather than because she did not keep earlier campaign promises.
The idea that Trump will be poison down the ballot is now being used to fire up Democrats who might not be all that keen on their own candidate. I saw this on Tuesday at the polls in the enthusiastic chatter of the Democrats who showed up to vote for the challenger to one of the most popular Republicans around, Rep. Mark Meadows, another congressman with a perfect score from the ACU in 2015. These voters, who gave the county to Bernie Sanders in March, seem to think Trump will prove so unpopular as to return the North Carolina statehouse, the state legislature, and Congress to Democrat control after November.