The Republicans' Senate primary in Indiana is one of the most contentious in the country this year, but Rep. Todd Rokita (R) believes he knows how to win the GOP nomination: by celebrating his unyielding support for Donald Trump.
In his new television ad, the Indiana congressman literally puts on a red "Make America Great Again" cap and vows to "proudly stand with" the president -- more than his primary rivals.
About a thousand miles to the west, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), who's taking on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), went a little further, telling a conservative radio host this week that he sees voting against Trump's wishes as being comparable to adultery. CNN reported yesterday:
"Here's the good news about Donald Trump: Most of the time, he's for North Dakota, and that's my point where I've heard her say, 'Gee, I voted with him 55% of the time,'" Cramer said."Can you imagine going home and telling your wife, 'I've been faithful to you 55% of the time'?"
The GOP lawmaker has occasionally made some strange comments -- Cramer had some curious criticisms of women's clothing last year, for example -- but this week's quote was a doozy.
It does, however, reflect an increasingly common view in Republican politics: Trump may be unpopular; he may be plagued by scandal; his White House may be flailing; he may be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation; and his administration may be burdened by widespread corruption allegations; but ambitious GOP politicians believe the key to their success is to cozy up to the president in the most sycophantic ways possible.
This is happening in races nationwide. In Michigan, for example, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (R) two years ago called on Trump to quit the presidential race after the "Access Hollywood" recording showed Trump bragging about sexual assault. Now that Calley is running for governor, his GOP primary rival, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) is using the incident in an attack ad.
Because in Republican politics in 2018, any break in loyalty to Trump should be seen as unacceptable -- and possibly career-ending.
In nearby Ohio, a super PAC backing Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's (R) gubernatorial primary against state Attorney General Mike DeWine launched an ad that tells viewers, "If you like President Trump, then you won't like Mike DeWine."
A Washington Post analysis last week explained, "Fealty to Trump has become more of a litmus test than ever for Republicans. Emboldened by private polling and focus groups that show the president is incredibly popular with the base, GOP candidates are stepping up attacks on their rivals over any daylight they've shown with Trump, even if it stemmed from his personal conduct toward women or apostasy on traditional conservative orthodoxy. It's another illustration of the degree to which Trumpism has come to define the Republican Party. This is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. It's the party of Donald J. Trump."
Common sense might suggest the least popular president since the dawn of American polling shouldn't enjoy robust intra-party support like this, but in many of these states and contests, Trump's national difficulties are irrelevant. So long as he enjoys the enthusiastic support of the Republican Party's base, GOP politicians will continue to trip over each other to sing his praises.