GOP Congressional candidates … on their own

It’s a safe bet that when President Donald J. Trump was a younger man, he never read “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s American classic about a young child’s awakening to racial prejudice in a sleepy little town in the pre-civil rights South. The admirable Atticus Finch teaches his young daughter, Scout, about empathy, saying: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Otherwise President Trump would have been able to put himself in the shoes of the more than four dozen Republican House candidates who, because national polls show an overall advantage to Democratic challengers for the 2018 midterms, are nervously running in the four dozen House districts that have been rated toss-ups or worse, trending from Republican to Democrat.

If you’re a Republican running in one of those battleground races, you want the 2018 campaign to be about how you and the GOP, over the opposition Democrats, continue to do such an obviously great job as stewards of the booming U.S. economy whose unemployment fell to an 18-year low in May and whose second-quarter growth, powered by a comeback in consumer spending, grew at an inflation-adjusted annual rate of 4.1 percent. You want to be able to taunt your opponents who remind us that the current economic expansion that began in mid-2009 under then-President Obama is probably a lot closer to its end than its beginning: “Cheer up. Eventually, things will get worse.”

But if you’re a Republican on the ballot in 2018, you don’t always get what you want from Donald Trump. For some irrational reason, Trump selfishly wants to make his dubious relationship with Russia and President Vladimir Putin the October non-surprise, thereby putting Republican candidates squarely on the political defensive, forced to explain and justify why their president continues to be such an unassertive and deferential wooer of the Russian dictator’s approval.

Trump cohorts with access to the Oval Office and some steel in their backbone could tell the president about the most recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, which asked voters to rate how positive or negative feelings their feelings toward prominent individuals are with the categories “very positive,” “somewhat positive,” “neutral,” “somewhat negative,” “very negative” and “don’t know name/not sure.” Somewhere in these United States lives the 2 percent of Americans who give Putin a “very positive” score and their soul mates, the 3 percent of us who give the Russian boss a “somewhat positive” score. On the other side, 19 percent of voters rated Putin “somewhat negative,” and 46 percent gave him a thumbs-down score of “very negative,” for an overall total of 5 percent positive and 65 percent negative. Sadly, that means that approximately 30 percent of those interviewed do not know who Putin is or have no opinion of the man.

It was obvious from the publicly cold shoulder House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave to Trump’s initial autumn homecoming invitation to Putin that they know another summit of sorts this fall is bad news for their embattled Republican colleagues.

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Mark Shields is a nationally syndicated columnist.