Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
When Donald Trump campaigns on behalf of Republican candidates, there is little doubt he inspires his base to vote. But after two high-profile Republican gubernatorial losses in deep red states — Kentucky and Louisiana — it’s worth asking if Trump’s efforts are animating more people to vote for Democrats than Republicans.
Though Trump campaigned on behalf of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and a GOP challenger in Louisiana challenger, both lost in closely watched elections. Of course, there are many factors at play in statewide elections, but there’s no denying that in those two races, where polls showed the candidates neck and neck shortly before the election, Trump alone couldn’t deliver GOP wins.
The most recent example came Saturday in Louisiana, a state Trump won by almost 20 points in 2016, between incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and businessman Eddie Rispone. Trump traveled to Louisiana last week to hold a raucous rally, where he told supporters, “In two days, I really need you, but you really need you, to send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington,” he said. “They are corrupt. They are crazy, crazy.” Then, referring to the recent Kentucky defeat, he added, “So, Trump took a loss … so you got to give me a big win, please. OK? OK?!”
But Trump’s efforts to help Rispone went far beyond that rally. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence called conservative radio shows in the Bayou State in the lead-up to the election, promoting the Republican candidate. Trump recorded a get out the vote robocall and sent out tweets in support of Rispone. Trump’s political operation even spent money to help Rispone. As Pence stated Friday, while making a radio appearance in support of Rispone, “The President and I have left it all on the field.”
In Kentucky, the race was closer, but Trump still made his election eve campaign rally a plea to voters to show that they support him by voting to re-elect Bevins. Trump spent his nearly hour-long speech bragging about his administration’s accomplishments, while attacking Democrats with language that sounded like a warm-up for 2020: “The radical Democrats are going totally insane … They want to indoctrinate your children — you know this. Destroy anyone who holds traditional American values.”
And then Trump made the race personal as he told the voters of Kentucky, a state he carried by almost 30 points in 2016, that if Bevins lost, “it sends a really bad message … [and] you can’t let that happen to me.”
But Trump’s recent losses aren’t limited to deep red states. Though the President didn’t make the 2019 Virginia Legislature elections a visible priority, he did take to Twitter to urge GOP voters to retain control of the state legislature by telling them to “send a signal to D.C.” The result was more bad news for Trump and the GOP. Democrats flipped both chambers of the Virginia Legislature and now control state government for the first time in two and half decades.
Overall, since Trump took office, Democrats have flipped nine governorships from New Jersey to Kansas, taken control of the House of Representatives and won more than 400 state legislative seats. And with Trump’s average approval rating at an anemic 41%, Republicans in close races in 2020 must ask if embracing Trump will serve them well — or be an albatross which drags them down.
To be fair, Trump wouldn’t be the first President that candidates in the same political party ran away from in an election year because they perceived him to be a political liability. The same thing happened to former Presidents George W. Bush in 2006 and Barack Obama in 2014, who were both less than popular in several critical battleground states.
But, in Trump’s case, his appearance in a closely contested race might inspire those who oppose him to come out and vote for the Democratic candidates. Just look at recent polls that show a big gap between those who “strongly approve” and “strongly disapprove” of Trump. For example, a recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that overall 38% of Americans approve of Trump and 30% “strongly” approve. Compare that to the 58% of voters who disprove of Trump, with 48% “strongly” disliking what Trump is doing as president.
While each state and congressional district is different, people who feel strongly one way or the other about a president are likely the ones motivated to vote. And given Trump’s low approval ratings — particularly among suburban voters — a GOP candidate might want to stop and think before tying his or her campaign to Trump in 2020.