Shortly after Donald Trump insisted to reporters in Ohio he expected a “red wave” on election day, 3 November, it was reported on Saturday that he told Republican donors this week it would be “tough” for the party to hold on to the Senate.
Trump trails Joe Biden in most national and battleground state polls. Democrats hold the House of Representatives and expect to keep it, while many forecasters think they have a good chance of re-taking the Senate, which Republicans hold 53-47, thereby achieving unified government.
“I think the Senate is tough actually,” the Washington Post said Trump told donors in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, before his last debate against Biden, according to an anonymous attendee. “The Senate is very tough.”
The Post said Trump also insisted Republicans “are going to take back the House”. As Democrats hold that chamber by 232-197, few forecasters think there is much chance of that.
Senate Republicans face defeat in Colorado, Maine, Arizona and perhaps North Carolina. Supposedly safer seats in Georgia, Iowa and Montana look far from secure. Trump reportedly told donors North Carolina would hold and Alabama would be taken back, but said there were “a couple” of senators he did not want to help.
“There are a couple senators I can’t really get involved in,” the Post quoted him as saying. “I just can’t do it. You lose your soul if you do. I can’t help some of them. I don’t want to help some of them.”
Trump has clashed with senators including Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who offered harsh criticism and predicted “a Republican bloodbath in the Senate”.
Sasse is among conservatives eyeing post-Trump presidential runs. Others usually loyal but under pressure at the polls, such as John Cornyn in Texas and Martha McSally in Arizona, have mounted cautious bids to be seen as independent.
Even Mitch McConnell, the ruthless architect of the Republicans’ push to install federal judges under Trump, has said he thinks his party has a “50-50” chance of keeping control. The majority leader, 78, set for re-election despite a tough fight in Kentucky, has rebuffed questions about his health after he appeared with severe bruising to his hands and face.
Control of the Senate has allowed Republicans to rush through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the supreme court, thereby tipping it 6-3 in favour of conservatives.
If the White House and Senate are lost, a reactionary court would be Republicans’ bulwark against a Biden legislative agenda that could include reform to the court and the Senate.
The court is due to hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, on 10 November. Trump has said he wants the justices to bring the ACA down, thereby depriving millions of healthcare in a pandemic and kneecapping his own drive to defeat HIV.
One senator who initially stood against the push for Barrett said during debate on Saturday she would vote to confirm. When the nomination comes to the floor on Monday, said Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, “I will be a yes. I have no doubt about her intellect … I have no doubt about her capability to do the job.”
Generally a defender of abortion rights Democrats say Barrett will threaten, Murkowksi had said no new justice should be named before the election.