GOP's response if Trump is nominee: At least we're not socialists

Republicans looking to retain the Senate are confident they can do so, no matter who the GOP presidential nominee is. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Sen. Roger Wicker, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Ward Baker (l.), the NRSC's executive director, speak to reporters at a Monitor Breakfast in Washington Thursday.

While the nation wonders whether New Hampshire means a President Trump or President Sanders, another consequential race is at hand – for control of the United States Senate. 

This year, Republicans, who won control of the Senate in 2014, have 24 seats to defend. Democrats need only five – or four, if they win the White House – to take back the majority. 

In an election of “stark consequences,” where four new Supreme Court justices may face Senate confirmation, Republicans plan to keep their majority by touting their accomplishments, warning against “socialist” Democrats, and focusing on the unique characteristics of each race, said two guests at a Monitor breakfast Thursday.

“We think we can run on our record,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi, who chairs the committee tasked with winning Senate seats for the GOP. 

Under the leadership of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, the Senate last year passed a bipartisan highway bill, education bill, a fix to a perennial Medicare problem, and permanent tax cuts – all of which became law. It was one of the most productive Congresses in recent years.

But right along with that positive message came a message of fear, delivered with precision by Ward Baker, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

When asked about the potential negative affect that Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might have on GOP Senate races if either were the nominee, Mr. Baker turned the tables to warn against the Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-declared democratic socialist from Vermont, or Hillary Clinton.

“Any one of our candidates would be much better than the declared socialist or the undeclared socialist,” Mr. Baker said. “The last thing that [Americans] need, for their safety, and for their future, and for their children” is either Senator Sanders or Ms. Clinton, he said. 

In a forceful tone, Baker – a former Marine – said the Democratic candidates “want to cut back on the military … make this country less safe, and … bring prisoners, terrorists from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Colorado.”

A leaked September 2015 memo by Baker – “Observations on Donald Trump and 2016” – warned committee staff that “Trump is a misguided missile” who says what’s on his mind. That’s “a problem,” the memo said, because candidates will “have to spend full time defending him or condemning him if that continues.”

At the breakfast, Baker said it would be “malpractice” not to be prepared for whoever the nominee is, and that the committee staff has looked at the down-ballot implications of each of the presidential candidates. 

He then repeated his talking point, “no matter who the nominee is from our party, they will be better than the undeclared socialist or the socialist of the Democratic Communist Party” – to which, in an apparently calming gesture, the gentler Wicker briefly touched the arm of his colleague.

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