Republican Senate candidates should embrace the appeal of Donald Trump’s ballsy rhetoric while simultaneously fending off his “farcical fits.”
That’s the advice offered in a memo to top officials of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. If nothing else, it suggests that leaders within the Republican Party are accepting the reality that Trump really could sit atop the GOP’s 2016 presidential ticket. But the memo also indicates that the “Trump phenomenon” is forcing the GOP to learn some lessons from his success—and to reckon with some of the uncomfortable tensions within the party that his candidacy has laid bare.
Much of the seven-page, confidential document, which was obtained by The Washington Post, is anodyne. Its author, Ward Baker, pushes candidates to “remember the basics” by avoiding Washington-speak and emphasizing personal narratives as public servants. It suggests that candidates need to go beyond saying that “Washington is broken,” and instead demonstrate that they’ll “rip up the rotten roots and begin anew.” Those seem to be things any worthy political strategist would encourage during this election cycle.
What is exceptional, however, is the memo’s clear and open acknowledgement that Donald Trump is going to cause major problems for Republican candidates across the board in 2016:
Let’s face facts. Trump says what’s on his mind and that’s a problem. Our candidates will have to spend full time defending him or condemning him if that continues. And, that’s a place we never, ever want to be. It is certain that all GOP candidates will be tied in some way to our nominee...
So how do candidates avoid getting dragged into “every Trump statement and every Trump dust up?” It’s like walking on a political tight rope, according to Baker. He advises candidates to embrace the tactics that Trump supporters respect—his politically incorrect demeanor and unfaltering self-confidence—without espousing extreme views that might alienate voters in their states. “You’re running for the U.S. Senate so focus on that ... Keep the focus on your own campaign and the voters back home.” He also pleads with candidates to limit their criticisms of Trump: “Spending full time attacking our own nominee will ensure that the GOP vote is depressed. That will only serve to topple GOP candidates at every level.”