Jack Colwell: NRSC takes aim at Sen. Donnelly
Thursday, February 16, 2017 9:50 AM
SOUTH BEND – The National Republican Senatorial Committee already has a TV ad aimed at Sen. Joe Donnelly, starting early in efforts to defeat the Indiana Democrat when he runs for reelection in 2018. And President Trump invites Donnelly to lunch at the White House. Conflict in approach? Not at all.
Both the Senate GOP strategists and Trump seek to strap Donnelly in a political hot seat in the battle over confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Both seek to put pressure on Democratic senators facing reelection contests in states where Trump won big last fall. Trump carried Indiana by 20 percent. As Trump would say: That’s huge.
Both know some Democratic senators are needed now for the 60 votes for confirmation. They want to avoid embarrassment of changing the rules to invoke the “nuclear option” for confirmation by a bare majority. Republicans control 52 seats in the 100-member chamber.
So, what if Donnelly votes to confirm Gorsuch? Would Republicans refrain from an all-out attack to defeat Donnelly in 2018? Refraining from using millions of dollars already committed to attack Donnelly is as likely as Trump tweeting that Saturday Night Live really is very funny.
Donnelly knows this. He wasn’t invited to a fancy lunch at the White House because Trump thinks he’s a great guy who deserves a second term. Donnelly was invited, along with three other Democratic senators from red states where Trump won big – huge – because the president wants their votes to confirm Gorsuch and to pass some other items on his legislative agenda. Trump seeks both to court and to threaten them.
Court them? Sure. Trump, like other presidents, seeks in the grandeur of the White House to convince members of Congress to go along with their cordial host to help their president, their country.
Threaten them? Sure. Trump doesn’t need to tweet it. They get the message: All those voters who supported him in 2016 could take it out in 2018 on senators opposing him now on the Gorsuch nomination.
How Donnelly votes on confirmation won’t matter in terms of how strongly the Republican Senatorial Committee and supporting PACs attack him. His decision, however, could have effect on voters who look beyond alternative facts in the 30-second TV attacks.
Predict? We could if we knew how popular Trump will be in November of 2018. Will all those Hoosier supporters from 2016 still be with him, storming to the polls to punish anyone on the ballot who hadn’t in their view joined to make America great again? Or will many of them instead fear that they put a madman in the White House and welcome members of Congress who opposed him?
We could predict if we knew whether there will be in 2018 an energized Democratic base, storming to the polls to reward anyone on the ballot who opposed Trump. Will some of them refuse to support a Democrat who failed to oppose Trump at every opportunity? Will many of them again stay home instead of voting?
We could theorize if we knew what will happen to Obamacare. Will voters who deplored Obamacare but liked provisions of the Affordable Care Act realize that ACA is Obamacare? Will Republicans repealing ACA provide nothing or something good? Will Donnelly’s vote for ACA be a plus or a minus?
Gorsuch will be confirmed. One way or the other, with enough Democrats joining for 60 votes or through the “nuclear option.” The election determined that. Much more was at stake than whether Trump once grabbed too much or Hillary Clinton once emailed too much.
Should Democrats retaliate against the way Republicans wouldn’t even give a hearing to an impeccably credentialed liberal justice by all refusing to vote for an impeccably credentialed conservative justice? If so, for how long? Whatever they do, there will be no invitations for lunch at the White House at election time.
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.