During the last presidential election, as it became clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, Iowa’s Sen. Joni Ernst made a decision.
Like almost every other Republican, Ernst did not endorse Trump in the nominating process and did not appear pleased to see him excel. She acknowledged his inflammatory statements and lamented when Ted Cruz, the last viable alternative, exited the race.
But, also like almost every other Republican, Ernst vowed to support the party’s nominee. Every day after, her support for Trump seemed to grow a little stronger until she became a reliable ally to the Republican administration.
“Donald Trump has been able to reach a lot of voters that maybe the mainstream GOP has not been able to reach,” Ernst said on western Iowa’s KMA radio in May 2016.
It turns out Republicans were right about Trump’s unique appeal to voters, but they were wrong about the upshot for themselves. That leads to a strange situation where Iowans in this election might help re-elect Trump to the presidency and also send Democrats to Congress.
It would be a repeat of the 2018 midterm elections, when Iowans elected a Republican governor but sent Democrats to fill three out of four U.S. House seats.
In three recent polls of Iowa voters, down-ballot Republicans earned less support than the president. Trump is tied with Joe Biden at 47 percent, according to the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, while Ernst is trailing her opponent by 3 points and Republican House candidates are trailing by 2.
What explains the disparity? There’s a clue in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll: While 86 percent of Trump voters say they’re voting for the president, rather than against his opponent, about half of Biden voters say the same.
Opposition to Trump tends to trickle down the ballot, but Trump’s support stays concentrated at the top of the ticket.
Ernst has sided with Trump’s position 91 percent of the time during Senate votes the past four years, according to the political polling site FiveThirtyEight. David Young, a Republican running to reclaim the 3rd District seat he lost in 2018, had a 99 percent Trump score in the previous Congress. Both are more than 20 points higher than analysts would project based on Trump’s performance in the state.
Three other Republicans running for Congress in Iowa do not have congressional voting records to compare, but each openly supports the president.
For their dutiful service to the president, Iowa Republicans are being rewarded with difficult election bids in a state that just four years ago felt like it was turning permanently red.
Republicans made a grim wager in dedicating their political souls to the president. They bet on the trickle-down theory of Trumpism, hoping it would lift their prospects.
What they didn’t realize is that hardcore Trump voters aren’t voting for a policy agenda or a cohesive strategy to actually enact legislation, stuff that would require a legislative coalition. They’re voting for Trump himself, the boorish crony who tells it like it is, to own the libs and keep America great.
No matter how hard you try to show allegiance, it will never be enough for the president and his identity cult.
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