The last key to total domination for the GOP at this point (after the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and replacing either Ginsberg, Breyer, or Kennedy with a second pick) is getting to 60 Senate seats in 2018.
Most observers find that far more likely that the GOP will pick up the 8 seats it needs in a midterm election compared to the 3 Democrats would need to get to 51, given the map and that fact that Dems would have to flip at least one GOP Senate seat in a state that Trump won in 2016 by double digits, whereas Dems have to defend a whopping ten Senate seats in states that Trump won last November.
But part of rolling to that victory depends on recruiting, and a month into the Trump regime, Republicans, with the best shot they've had in decades at 60 seats, are suddenly having a lot of trouble finding people to run against these supposedly vulnerable Dems.
The 2018 Senate cycle presents Republicans with a host of opportunities, but the party has already lost several top-tier candidates to fill the seats.
GOP Reps. Sean Duffy (Wis.) and Pat Meehan (Pa.) both recently announced that they’ll run for reelection instead of mounting Senate runs in blue-leaning states where President Trump pulled off upset victories.
Republicans are losing out on potential challengers in safely GOP states, too. Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks ruled out a run. Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke will likely be confirmed to lead the Interior Department, taking a top competitor out of the mix in that deep red state.
“The House [members] are generally pretty politically savvy people,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a politics website that handicaps elections. “They know midterms are often—not always—bad for the president's party.”
“Trump is off to a historically weak start in terms of his approval. …You got a lot of members of the House who are in relatively safe seats. Maybe they’re making the determination that this might not best year to run for Senate.”
While a few star GOP contenders have bowed out, Republicans are shrugging it off. They point to a deep bench of other credible candidates who they believe are just as capable of taking on vulnerable Democrats.
Republicans argue that it’s too early to tell whether Trump’s performance or midterm election dynamics are impacting House members’ decisions against Senate bids. While the first few weeks of his administration have been chaotic, they say voters in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin may view the president differently than those within the Beltway.
“It’s kind of hard to see the ‘this caused that,’ because what is “happening in the states is a lot different than what’s happening in our view,” said a national Republican operative.
If Republicans are getting cold feet this early in the 2018 cycle, it must mean that they're scared. Republicans have destroyed Democrats in midterms the 2010 and 2014, and that was before the help of new voter suppression laws that went into effect for 2016.
Republicans should be lining up to pick off supposedly doomed Dems like Jon Tester, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill. But they're not.
Suddenly Trump's sub-40% and sinking approval rating in just 30 days is looking like a distinct liability.
Maybe there's a small hope for Democrats after all.