But each of these senators has other reasons for why they might not bother. Most are relative moderates, and not especially Trumpy in ideology. Romney and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have both publicly broken with Trump in recent months. (Alexander gently chastised Trump during the impeachment trial as well.) Moreover, none of them needs Trump’s help, and none of them needs fear him. Romney and Murkowski are themselves all but indestructible in their home states, and neither faces reelection for two years. Grassley is probably similarly solid, should he choose to run again in two years. Alexander is already retiring.
David A. Graham: Trump’s lost cause
Collins is a different story: She’s in the political fight of her life against the Democrat Sara Gideon, and the danger to her is that she’s too closely aligned with Trump for Maine voters—so keeping him at arm’s length has gone from being the liability it used to be for most Republicans to being a must for her. (The problem for Collins is that as politics has become more and more nationalized, it has become correspondingly difficult for moderate members of Congress to separate themselves from presidents of their own party.)
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu announced that he wouldn’t attend a rally on Saturday in Portsmouth, though he’ll greet Trump on arrival to the state. He, too, blamed the coronavirus.
“I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people, I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people, if that’s your question specifically,” he told CNN. “I try to—unfortunately, you know, I have to be extra cautious as the governor, I try to be extra cautious for myself, my family.”
This is an implicit rebuke of Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the coronavirus, if a timid one. But not long ago, it would have seemed absurd for any sitting Republican governor to avoid a rally with Trump—especially a governor up for reelection. But Sununu, like the senators, probably just doesn’t need to worry about Trump right now. Polling on the ground is sparse, but Sununu seems to have a safe lead going into November. (One reason is public approval of his handling of COVID-19.)
Read: Can Lindsey Graham be beat?
Graham makes for the most interesting case, and also the most ambiguous. As I reported yesterday, he criticized Trump for attacking NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate battle flag from races and defended the Black driver Bubba Wallace. The State notes an emerging pattern of clear, though limited, disagreements:
Since June 20, Graham has blocked a Trump U.S. attorney nominee, criticized Trump’s decision to put a temporary freeze on visas for foreign workers, split with the president about face masks during the coronavirus pandemic and pressed the administration for information about alleged Russian bounties on American soldiers.
The South Carolinian was one of Trump’s most outspoken critics during the 2016 GOP primary, in which he was abortively a candidate. But after Trump took office, Graham became one of his most reliably obsequious defenders. Many columns of ink and pixels were devoted to contemplating why. One theory, pushed by Graham himself, was that cozying up to the president made it easier for him to criticize Trump and push him on pet issues, which Graham has, on occasion, done—especially on military policy in the Middle East.