by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If Donald Trump wins another term next week, he will be the undisputed face of the Republican Party for another four years. Beating Hillary Clinton, and then defying the odds to claim a second term amid an economy-wrecking pandemic, would be a historic political accomplishment. But Trump is not a traditional Republican, and no matter how 2020 shakes out, Republicans will face the question of just how “Trump-y” they should become and how much this unlikeliest of figures — the constantly-tweeting, twice-divorced casino owner and reality-television star — should shape the GOP moving forward.
In 2016, Trump managed something that should be impossible: He won 306 electoral votes —304 once two faithless electors are factored in — while being, on average, less popular than the GOP Senate candidates running below him on the same ballot. In 18 states, Trump ran six or fewer points behind the GOP Senate candidate. …
… We shouldn’t be that surprised to see a party’s Senate candidate running ahead of its presidential nominee. The Senate candidate usually has local roots and has spent at least the past year tailoring a message to the state’s electorate, while the presidential candidate is trying to win votes all across the country. In the uncompetitive states, the presidential candidate may not even visit after the primaries.
That said, even presidential candidates who don’t reach 270 electoral votes can win more votes than the Senate candidates in their party. Mitt Romney is remembered as a disappointing Republican candidate, but he outperformed most of the GOP Senate candidates in 2012, sometimes by significant margins. …
… If, when the 2020 vote count is complete, Trump wins fewer votes than Republican Senate nominees in most states, it will weaken the argument that the GOP as a whole should become “Trumpier” in tone or substance.