Trump’s administration scandals threaten to take a toll on Republicans in battleground districts this fall, according to new polling suggesting “culture of corruption” messaging is gaining traction.
Fifty-four percent of voters across 48 Republican-held congressional districts said Republicans were “more corrupt” than Democrats, compared to 46 percent who said Democrats are “more corrupt.”
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According to the online survey of 1,200 registered voters, conducted July 2-5, an even higher number of independents hold Republicans responsible for corruption: 60 percent.
Those are welcome numbers to Democrats who have struggled to find their messaging in the run-up to the midterms. In May, the party signaled an effort to tap the “culture of corruption” theme that proved an effective mantra in 2006, when GOP Capitol Hill scandals helped Democrats regain control of the House and Senate.
“The fact that you have these recurring cabinet scandals, the fact that it keeps happening over and over again, it registers,” said Jesse Lee, spokesman for the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy group that was behind the poll. “People understand it’s been taken to a new level. There’s no check on it anymore. Trump isn’t pushing back on Congress to keep it under control. Congress isn’t pushing back on Trump.”
The corruption framing today takes a different shape than in 2006, when it largely revolved around the behavior of Republican members of Congress. Now, the focus is on Trump cabinet members who resigned under an ethics cloud, including former Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
The current messaging also looks to portray the GOP tax plan as riddled with loopholes and benefiting only the wealthy. That’s the same plan Republicans are holding up in their reelection campaigns as a major achievement.
Lee pointed to the poll’s four-point Democratic lead on the generic ballot as a notable shift from the last two cycles, where he said Republicans led in the same districts by an average of 14 points.
The Internet-based study showed voters had a high-level of familiarity with Trump’s cabinet and showed particular frustration when asked about pols spending “taxpayer money on perks for themselves” or when they “make policies that help their big campaign donors.”
A majority of voters (56 percent) said that congressional Republicans are not doing enough oversight of the Trump administration — a number that’s even higher among independents (57 percent).
The polling suggested that the Republican tax cuts — and loopholes tapped by some of the same members who voted for the plan — as an area ripe for exploitation.
Of those surveyed, 75 percent responded that it was “serious” or “very serious” that 53 Republicans in Congress would “get an average tax cut of over $200 thousand each from a single loophole they added to the tax bill at the last minute.”
Republicans have a decidedly different take on their tax bill — betting that a tax cuts message is winning and, despite resignations of top cabinet officials under the president, they’re plowing forward with Trump’s “drain the swamp” messaging.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence pointed to a humming economy and the Republican tax plan as marquee selling points as he toured a series of competitive Midwestern House districts to boost candidates.
Pence paired many of his visits with the pro-Trump group America First Policies, which held panels touting the benefits of Trump’s tax overhaul.
America First Policies Senior Policy Adviser Curtis Ellis had his own framing of the effects of the tax overhaul: “Are we tired of winning yet?” he asked, to a chorus of “nos.” He earned another round of cheers when he declared: “We still have to drain the swamp!”
Not only are Republicans betting they’ll stay free from the corruption taint, they’re throwing it right back at Democrats.
“Some study by liberal swamp creatures won’t be enough for Democrats to avoid defending their embrace of the socialist left — it’s not going to wash with voters who are seeing the results of Trump’s policies,” said Dennis Lennox, a Michigan-based Republican operative. “Right now, people have made their mind up. Either you like the president or you don’t like the president. There’s no in-between. Either you like your congressman or you don’t like your congressman. The battle lines are pretty well drawn.“