President Donald Trump's style has jeopardized the House of Representatives' Republican majority in Congress this year. Members of Congress are forced to choose between Trump — how he acts and all he stands for — and their own political instincts. The dilemma is real, and members of the House must realize that integrity is important to any candidate.
Those elected officials who stand with President Trump are willing to overlook shortcomings they wouldn't otherwise stand for if given a free choice. Despite his bluntness, intransigence and personal foibles (Stormy Daniels, for example), Trump as president wields tremendous power — enough to force officeholders and voters to be either "with him or against him." Granted, he's accomplished some impressive policy victories for some voters, endearing him to some public officials but making enemies of others. Tax relief, border protection and a successful Supreme Court nomination have convinced some that he's "not that bad" on policy matters. They're right, but at what cost to public service?
Most Americans would never stand to vote for crudeness in office, but a president already in office changes voters and officeholders — especially those who support the president's policies, if not his style.
So what fine line must officeholders and Republicans seeking high office in 2018 walk? It's a tough call because alienating a sitting president who commands the respect of at least 40 percent of voters can be political suicide. There are few Republican members of Congress who can win election without that 40 percent, unless one is unopposed, a phenomenon infrequent in Congressional elections.
So candidates must choose between accepting support from a crude, largely unpopular, egomaniacal president, or being resistant and not caring whether he or his supporters are supportive or not. The latter is dangerous and is largely reserved for Democrats since they have an uphill fight to retake the House of Representatives. Much depends on how the United States operates this year under Trump's leadership. A war with North Korea or Syria/Iran/Russia, or a firing of respected Robert Mueller could tip the scales against Trump in favor of his opponents. It's likely that Trump will realize the downside of such actions and avoid them to save his political skin, but he also may be so emboldened as to be more forceful, if any looked like they might result in victory. In any event, he'll certainly gauge the political climate before acting precipitously.
So what should elected officials do: Stand up for or against the duly-elected president?
"Public opinion generally favors elected officials who stand on principle, not political expediency."
Though challenges to any incumbent president are politically difficult, candidates of integrity are called to take a stand, either for or against President Trump's style and policies. While doing so could have political consequences (a lost election), not doing so calls into question a candidate's personal integrity. In today's culture, integrity in office may be in short supply, but public opinion generally favors elected officials who stand on principle, not political expediency. If candidates explain fully to voters a position taken, voters will examine that position closely and vote accordingly. Those candidates who conspicuously waffle, trying to satisfy both camps, will be found out and properly vilified.
The Trump presidency may remain an aberration, born of an election where crudeness and promises made to many middle-income voters fed up with Washington, D.C., politicians, were just enough to prevail over another self-serving candidate. Nevertheless, political integrity is a necessary trait for most voters. Even without a serious challenger in 2020 to Trump, which may result in his renomination and re-election, voters will support candidate integrity most often. Trump will likely garner fewer votes in 2020, particularly if women and millennials vote, than he did in his stunning 2016 victory.
Even though directness and crude comments vanquished his opponents in 2016, replications of those tactics by subsequent candidates have not been successful. While some have been elected by tying themselves closely to Trump and his stated policy goals, most others have been unsuccessful — like Roy Moore in Alabama and Ed Gillespie in Virginia.
These examples illustrate the president's ability to mobilize his base for himself, but candidates who seek to mirror Trump have been less successful. This is a feature of the power of any sitting president, but it also shows that presidential power doesn't always translate into election victory for other candidates. Presidential leadership often inures to the benefit of the president, showing that crudeness in office, no matter the underlying policy benefits, is largely anathema to other candidates.
In the end, integrity prevails. ♦