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The Trump Effect: Threatening the GOP’s General Election Chances Up-and-Down the 2016 Ballot

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As Donald Trump consolidates his standing as the Republican presidential frontrunner, there are several new reminders about how his embrace of ugly nativism could harm the Republican Party’s chances of taking back the White House and maintaining control of the Senate in 2016.

The Trump Effect: Harming the GOP’s Chances of Retaking the White House

Donald Trump’s campaign, as well as the emphasis of most of the GOP 2016 field, is a narrow-casted appeal towards aggrieved white voters.  Yet the political wisdom of limiting the GOP’s appeal to this shrinking cohort of the electorate is a questionable prospect at best, given demographic realities that are already in place.  As Republican pollster Whit Ayres wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Republicans can’t win a presidential election by trying to grab a larger piece of a shrinking pie.  That helps explain why Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections.  If America’s demographics still looked the way they did in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was voted into office, John McCain and Mitt Romney would have won the White House.”  And as Michael Gerson wrote in a recent column blasting Trump’s emphasis on aggrieved white voters,  “declaring war on demography is like declaring war on gravity — all your victories are temporary.”

In fact, based on the most likely 2016 electoral composition and turnout scenarios, the Republican nominee will need the votes of 47% percent of Latinos nationally to win a majority of the 2016 popular vote, with similar “Latino voter thresholds” needed in likely battleground states of CO, FL, NV, NM, OH, and VA.  Even if a GOP candidate wins an historically high level of the white vote – 60%, a level not reached by Republicans in a presidential election since the 1980s – he or she would have to win 42% of the Latino vote to win the popular vote nationwide (read the Latino Decisions analysis and methodology here).   After George W. Bush received approximately 40% of the Latino vote in his 2004 re-election, the Republican Party tarnished its brand image among Latino voters by scuttling comprehensive immigration reform in Congress during Bush’s second term.  The toll was such that even pro-reform candidate John McCain lost Latino voters by a 67%-31% margin to Barack Obama in 2008.  In 2012, after Mitt Romney embraced hardline immigration stances such as “self-deportation,” President Obama won the even larger Latino electorate by an even greater margin – 75%-23%according to Election Eve polling from Latino Decisions.

Now, the Republican front-runner is threatening to underperform even Romney’s historically low levels among Latino voters.  New polling from ABC News/Washington Post captures how Latinos view the two parties’ presidential frontrunners in starkly different ways.  Among Latinos, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has a net negative favorability of 67 percentage points, with only 15% of Latinos viewing him favorably and 82% viewing him unfavorably.  Meanwhile, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has a net positive favorability rating of 41 percentage points among Latinos, with 68% of Latinos viewing her favorably and 27% unfavorably.

The Trump Effect: Harming the GOP’s Chances of Keeping Senate Control Past 2016

The Trump Effect is not only threatening the GOP’s prospects in the presidential race, but also in competitive 2016 Senate races and others down ballot.  As Tierney Sneed writes in a Talking Points Memo article titled, “Trump’s Latino Bashing Risks GOP Senate Hopes In 3 Key States”:

“Already Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric is becoming a flashpoint in the down-the-ballot campaigns. The direction he is pulling his fellow Republicans could put in jeopardy the GOP’s majority in the Senate, as some of the cycle’s most competitive races are taking place in states with heavy Latino populations.

“Of the five states that had the largest share of Hispanic voters in 2012 cycle, Florida, Colorado and Nevada are holding what are expected to be extremely contentious Senate races. And already, some of the candidates in those races have been expected to weigh in on Trump’s antics, which involve labeling Mexicans ‘rapists’ and calling for the end of birth citizenship.”

And Nevada’s leading political commentator, Jon Ralston, writes a new column titled, “Trump’s Rhetoric Damaging Heck’s Chances,” that captures how Trump and his nativist views are an “anchor” on Nevada’s likely Republican Senate contender, Joe Heck.  Writes Ralston:

“Just as Trump’s gravitational force is pulling many of his foes to the right on immigration, his incendiary rhetoric also could prove to be an anchor on GOP candidates such as Heck, who previously has boasted of his relatively strong showing among Hispanics.

“But running for Congress against embarrassingly inept Democratic challengers is not the same as competing statewide in a nationally watched U.S. Senate race seen by most observers as a toss-up or perhaps leaning slightly toward a woman, ex-Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who would be the first Latina senator in U.S. History.

“That last fact is enough to energize segments of Nevada’s Hispanic community, which could make up as much as 20 percent of the electorate come November 2016. So Heck has very little margin for error in trying to do better with that cohort than other recent GOP statewide candidates.

“… So Trump’s belligerence on illegal immigrants – “they have to go,” he told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” – poses a clear and present danger to Heck, who will have a difficult time winning the race if Hispanic turnout reaches record levels and he cannot fare better than Romney or Heller.”

“Restrictionist immigration views held by Republican candidates are not just threatening the party’s chances of taking back the White House, but undermining their chances in Senate and House races as well.  Republicans need to realize that the U.S. electorate’s demographic changes are not theoretical or happening far in the future: they’re here now.  They’re here today.  Unless the Republican Party finds a way to compete for these voters, they simply won’t be able to win these races,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice.