Senior Republicans say RNC must stick with Trump or risk losing Congress

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Story highlights

  • Republicans worry the RNC will have to decide at some point to abandon Trump, but say if that happens it will hurt down-ballot candidates
  • The GOP has several vulnerable senators up for re-election

(CNN)Senior Republicans in Washington are quietly advising the Republican National Committee to continue its financial investment behind Donald Trump, arguing that the committee needs to help keep the race competitive with Hillary Clinton or risk an electoral bloodbath that would flip control of Congress.

As some former and current GOP officials are urging RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to abandon Trump and shift resources down-ticket, others say the party committee needs to prevent Trump from losing by such a large margin that it would make it virtually impossible to hang onto endangered Republican seats.
"The more they can focus on hurting Hillary Clinton, the better we will do" down-ticket, said one top Republican who asked not to be named talking party strategy. "They should stick with Trump."
The concerns highlight a growing split among the party establishment about how to handle their nominee as he struggles to stay competitive with Clinton in places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and New Hampshire -- all states with GOP senators battling to hang onto their seats.
Top Republicans say that if Trump loses in those states by up to 10 points or more, it could be impossible to win over enough split-ticket voters to keep control of the Senate. But, they say, if Trump loses by a narrower margin, between 4-6 points, their candidates would be in a stronger position.
"The more competitive you can make the presidential race, the more it's going to help down-ballot races," said Ian Prior, spokesman for outside groups linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which have already spent nearly $30 million on Senate races with another $40 million reserved for the fall.
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What has prompted growing concern of late among Republicans is what's happening in North Carolina, where Trump is down by 9 points, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC poll from earlier this month. That same poll has Sen. Richard Burr, once viewed as a relatively safe incumbent, trailing his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, by 2 points, within the margin of error.
After Democrats have reserved $20 million on the airwaves in the state, Republicans are heartened that Trump will now begin an ad campaign in North Carolina as part of his first round of general election ad buys, hoping to reverse the slide in a state many Republicans fear is slipping away. Burr, meanwhile, has $6 million in TV ad time reserved, according to a source tracking the buys.
To soothe nerves, senior Trump officials met privately Wednesday at RNC headquarters with chiefs of staffs to House members who have been supportive of the campaign.
The message afterwards was clear: They need a healthy Trump to help keep Congress.
"Donald Trump doing well helps Republicans," said one GOP source, who brushed back the notion that the RNC would move to shift resources away from the nominee. "Donald Trump doing poorly doesn't help any Republicans."
Yet at least 110 Republicans, including two retiring GOP congressmen, Scott Rigell and Reid Ribble, say Trump is a lost cause, signing a letter urging the committee to abandon Trump.
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"Rather than throwing good money after bad, the RNC should shift its strategy and its resources to convince voters not to give Hillary Clinton the 'blank check' of a Democrat-controlled Congress to advance her big government agenda," the letter says.
The RNC has brought in staff to help Trump's once-skeletal campaign organization, aiming to help turn out the vote across the country. Yet, the RNC has faced concerns from some Republicans over whether its get-out-the-vote efforts will be up to par by Election Day. And some say they hope the committee will focus on down-ticket races when trying to turn out Trump voters to the polls.
"I don't think it would make a lot of sense to have a public announcement to have a break with the top of the ticket," said Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to McConnell. "But I would certainly want to make sure that resources into a turnout mechanism aren't turning out pro-Trump, anti-Republican votes that could sink the rest of the ticket."
The discussions on how to proceed come as Trump on Wednesday shook up his campaign staff, with the naming of two new senior officials, including the hiring of Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News, as the campaign CEO. A number of Republicans in the party establishment have been the subjects of relentless attacks from the combative website.
"He's always pushing things that are disruptive to the Republican Party," another senior Republican said of Bannon.
Yet RNC officials expressed support for the move.
"Steve fully understands the pulse of the grassroots," said RNC spokesman Sean Spicer. "He also knows how to run an organization, run a business."