Whenever Donald Trump or his VP pick, Mike Pence, have headed to a critical battleground state since being nominated last month, they’ve either been met with loud criticism from local Republicans — or by no Republicans at all. And that’s a troubling sign for the Trump campaign that their underlying infrastructure for the general election is weak.
Between Trump and Pence, the campaign will have hit up North Carolina, Wisconsin and Iowa by the time the week is over. All three are states where the race could be won and lost and will definitely be fought hard. And in all three states, most of the party’s leaders have stayed as far away as they could from the top of the ticket, while less senior Republicans have willingly bashed Trump. To wit:
— Former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, called Trump “an idiot” on the day Pence was campaigning in his state.Vinroot told the Charlotte Observer: “He behaves like an idiot, and his judgment — it’s just despicable.” Trump’s fight with the Khan family “violates Politics 101 — leave that poor couple alone. It’s not just bad politics, it’s bad humanity.”
That’s one of the strongest rebukes of Trump we’ve heard from any GOP elected official yet. Meanwhile, neither the state’s U.S. senator up for reelection, Richard Burr, nor its governor up for reelection, Pat McCrory, showed up at Pence’s rally Thursday in Raleigh.
— Next, in Wisconsin, the top Republican in the state Assembly, Speaker Robin Vos, posted Friday on a conservative website ahead of Trump’s visit there Friday night that he’s “embarrassed that [Trump] is leading our ticket.”
Republican leaders from the state will be nowhere to be found when Trump comes to Green Bay on Friday evening. Gov. Scott Walker (R) will be on the other side of the state at a local spaghetti dinner. “I’m 100 percent with Paul Ryan,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week in reference to the Trump-Ryan spat. And Ryan, the House speaker, who has a primary Tuesday he’s expected to win, has no plans to be there there. Nor does Sen. Ron Johnson (R), who’s in a tough reelection campaign. Nor will Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, who’s also from Wisconsin. Basically all of the state’s GOP leaders — many of them influential on the national stage as well — are giving absolutely zero indication they plan to back Trump with more than just words.
— Before Wisconsin, Trump will hit up Iowa on Friday afternoon.There, he’s been met with a little less resistance by Republican leaders. [Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s (R) son is heading Trump’s campaign in the state, and the governor has defended some of Trump’s more controversial remarks about Muslims.] But Steve Deace, a conservative radio host, un-registered as a Republican after Trump essentially clinched the nomination in May. And conservative firebrand Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) notably has still not officially endorsed Trump, though he has said he’ll vote for the party nominee.
— Maine, which Trump visited Thursday, isn’t entirely a battleground state — one congressional district is somewhat competitive, in a state that apportions its electoral votes. The state’s governor, Paul LePage (R),told New England talk radio show host Howie Carr that he urged Trump to “be more disciplined” — an especially biting remark coming from a governor who earlier this year said out-of-state drug dealers are impregnating “young, white girl[s].” We subsequently compared him to Trump,given his penchant for controversy.
All this intraparty discord trailing Trump’s campaign wherever it goes might not make national headlines, but it could signal a problem for his already bare-bones campaign. Here’s why:
1) It promotes the narrative the party isn’t uniting behind him. Notably, this is a a narrative Republican leaders want to hang onto as well — “Nothing to see here, folks!” The former mayor of a key city in a key swing state calling Trump an “idiot” risks undermining all that careful messaging at the national level that Republicans and Trump are A-okay.
2) Trump’s campaign infrastructure is lacking. As my colleague Philip Bump points out, Trump’s most recent campaign filing for the month of June listed 74 people on his payroll. Hillary Clinton had about 10 times as many. Instead of trying to match Clinton in staffing, Trump is relying on groups like the Republican National Committee to do the hard work for him to get voters to the polls in three months.
And staffers for the national committee invariably will work with local Republicans to navigate the state. See where I’m going with this? If local Republican leaders aren’t on board with Trump, it gets difficult to get voters there, too.
3) Speaking of Hillary Clinton and voters, we’re seeing more evidence every day that her campaign is aggressively courting Republican and Republican-leaning voters who are skeptical of Trump.
When Republican and Hewlett Packard executive Meg Whitman announced Tuesday she would support and fundraise for Hillary Clinton, she revealed that Clinton called her about a month before the switch. And CNN reports that in North Carolina — a must-win state for Trump if there ever was one — the Clinton campaign is making a concerted effort to win over college-educated suburban women who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
When those voters hear their local party leaders bashing Trump, it opens the door for Clinton to make her case to them.
Trump has a lot of problems right now: his polls are sagging, he’s fighting with party leaders, and he’s lurching from controversy to controversy. It’s not clear where this one ranks on the list, but as we all try to game out his readiness for the general election, his growing list of vocal Republican haters in key battleground states is something to keep an eye on.