Retiring Republicans on Sunday said the party could face a tsunami of Democratic victories in 2018 if it stokes resentment, instead of governing effectively ahead of the midterm elections.
Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, offered a blunt assessment of GOP rallies in the age of President Trump, saying they look like the “spasms of a dying party.”
“When you look at the lack of diversity sometimes, and it depends on where you are obviously but, by and large, we’re appealing to older white men and there are just a limited number of them, and anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy,” Mr. Flake told ABC’s “This Week.” “So you have to actually govern and do something.”
Retiring Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said his GOP colleagues should be “prepared for the worst” and “hope for the best” in the coming year’s elections, saying there is good policy in the Republican tax overhaul, yet legislative victories don’t always translate into electoral success.
“Clearly, you know, the Republican Party, my party is going experience losses. It remains to be seen whether or not we’ll lose the majority in the House or the Senate,” he told ABC. “But I guess you have to be concerned.”
Democrats and progressives have pointed to recent victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama as a preview of the anti-Trump backlash they’ll be banking on to retake the House and possibly the Senate, despite a tough 2018 map.
“What you’re seeing is a referendum on Donald Trump, about a man who said one thing during the campaign, and his actions are very, very different,” Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Dour assessments from a progressive champion like Mr. Sanders are one thing, but Mr. Flake and Mr. Dent sounded the alarm from within GOP ranks.
Republicans are trying to build momentum after an uneven year that saw failure on repealing Obamacare, an eyebrow-raising response from Mr. Trump to white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then a resounding victory on tax cuts.
Mr. Dent, a moderate Republican, said Democrats passed big bills on health care and financial reform in the early Obama years, only to get wiped out in 2010. He said it’s unclear whether the GOP will suffer the same fate or its tax cuts will buoy support.
Either way, he thinks the party is running into headwinds. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings are low, while a primary system that rewards extreme candidates is taking a toll, the congressman said, citing the Alabama U.S. Senate seat, which Republicans lost after their primary process nominated Roy Moore.
“A lot of these people, they’re not about expanding the base,” he said, saying politics and elections are about “addition, not subtraction. Inclusion, not exclusion.”
Mr. Flake, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, decided to retire from the Senate instead of seeking re-election in 2018, saying he didn’t see a spot for him in a GOP guided by Mr. Trump and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
He said the fate of Mr. Moore — dogged by extreme views and claims he pursued teenage girls in his 30s — should serve as a warning to Republicans who ally themselves with Mr. Bannon and his philosophy.
“I hope it’s being marginalized, the last thing we need is to push that ultra-nationalist, ethno-nationalist, protectionist kind of element of the party,” Mr. Flake said. “That’s not good for us.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is bullish about the GOP’s prospects and plans to hit the road in support of his party’s candidates.
He’s pointing to record highs on Wall Street and the success of his tax-cut efforts, saying Americans will see more money in their pockets and that a negative news cycle is the only thing holding him back.
“Despite only negative reporting, we are doing well — nobody is going to beat us,” he tweeted Sunday, then segueing into his campaign slogan in all capital letters: “Make America Great Again!”
But Mr. Flake says Mr. Trump is placing his own 2020 prospects at risk by alienating a chunk of the GOP faithful and independents who might balk at a hard-left candidate such as Mr. Sanders, but couldn’t back Mr. Trump. In that environment, third or fourth candidates might become more attractive.
“I do believe if the president is running for re-election, if he continues on the path that he’s on, that that’s gonna leave a huge swath of voters looking for something else,” he said.
Asked if he might be that alternative in 2020, he said, “I don’t rule anything out, but it’s not in my plans.”