The Senate Republican Bind

President Donald Trump speaks during the coronavirus response daily briefing at the White House, April 10, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The Senate Republican campaign committee recently circulated a memo suggesting that the party’s candidates attack China, and their opponents’ softness on it, rather than defending President Trump’s response to the coronavirus. When the news broke it naturally caused some consternation in the White House, followed by statements of unity.

There’s no getting around the fact that Senate Republicans’ fortunes are tied to Trump’s in this election. In 2016, for the first time, every state’s electoral votes went to the same party as its Senate election — and since then the party and Trump have gotten further entangled, in reality and in voters’ minds. A senator would have to have a very strong and longstanding brand of his (or more likely her) own to be able to separate their fates.

The problem this creates for Senate Republicans is twofold: Trump is the underdog, and there’s not a lot that senators can do to change that. (Any Republican senators who have read Henry Olsen’s advice that they try to make the case for Trump that the president hasn’t were probably alarmed by it.)

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The candidates would probably be best off doing something close to what the memo suggests: talking less about Trump, although without openly running away from him, and more about China. It won’t save the candidates if enough voters conclude that Trump has botched the response to COVID-19. But nothing else will either.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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