Over the past few days, the news for Republican congressional candidates has been almost unremittingly bleak. Troy Balderson, a state senator running in a central Ohio district that had long been considered rock solid for the GOP, is only narrowly ahead of the Democrat Danny O’Connor, a relative newcomer who has yet to concede defeat. In Washington State’s jungle primary, which winnows candidates of all parties down to the top two vote winners who then go on to contest the November general election, Republican candidates badly underperformed expectations. Seemingly safe Republican seats, such as southern Washington’s sprawling Third District, currently represented by the erstwhile rising star Jaime Herrera Beutler, now appear to be in jeopardy. Hopes that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the tight labor market would together lift the fortunes of the incumbent party have dimmed, and Republicans are turning to a more urgent message as the midterms approach: If the Democrats win, the Donald Trump presidency will be imperiled.
So suggested Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of President Trump’s most zealous defenders, to a closed-door gathering of donors late last month. Steve Bannon, the right-wing impresario once considered Trump’s chief ideologist, is speaking in similarly apocalyptic terms, warning that the first thing Democrats will do if they secure a House majority is move to impeach the president. In an interview with New York magazine, he claimed that while Democrats were committed to removing Trump from office, regardless of the findings of the Mueller investigation, they were shrewd enough to avoid campaigning on doing so: “Because they’ve seen the same data I’ve seen. The way to get the deplorables out is very simple: It’s talking impeachment. They want to shut you up, and they want to impeach Trump. So if you like Trump, you gotta show up. It’s very simple.” Elsewhere, in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Bannon made his point more plainly, insisting that Trump voters back GOP candidates in the fall, even when said candidates were, in his words, “RINOs” or “establishment figures.” This is a far cry from the bravado of months ago, when Bannon was busily orchestrating primary challenges against supposed RINOs and establishment figures in Senate races around the country, and it ignores the fact that there is no scenario in which Democrats could successfully remove the president from office without a substantial number of Republican votes in the Senate.