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GOP confronts nightmare scenario with Election Day one year out

Katie Glueck, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- No Obamacare repeal, no meaningful tax reform, a Republican president who can't stop attacking his own party and a party that can't stop fighting itself.

That's the nightmare scenario for the Republican Party one year out from the congressional elections, as the GOP seeks to defend its House and Senate majorities amid fears that the conservative base could be so demoralized, disillusioned and divided that there is room for a Democratic wave in 2018.

"If the Senate looks like it's frozen up and incompetent, to the voter, it creates apathy," said Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. "(Donald) Trump attacking his own party equals voter apathy at the polls, while the Democrats are going to be absolutely ginned up the same way we were able to do when (Barack) Obama was president. It's what Republicans have to be careful of."

There is still time to land a big-ticket legislative accomplishment, and many Republicans profess bullishness about tax reform -- and the ability to campaign on a strong economy. They are playing offense on a Senate map that strongly favors them, and in the House, many GOP candidates in districts that flipped to Hillary Clinton in 2016 are seasoned incumbents. (Read about the Democrats' nightmare 2018 scenario here.)

And yet, midterms are consistently -- often ruthlessly -- challenging for the party of the president, which has lost seats in almost every midterm election going back decades. That threatens to be especially true with this president, who has smashed into record-low approval territory as investigations into his team's connections with Russia begin to yield indictments and one guilty plea so far, giving Democrats more fodder for the argument that Congress should serve as a check on the White House.

Asked to name their biggest worry about next year's election cycle, top party strategists described the overarching concern that Republican voters stay home because a fractured GOP has little to show for its full control of Washington other than crippling intraparty strife, even as progressives are fired up to take on the party of Donald Trump.

 

One year out from Election Day 2018, here is a guide to the scenarios that are keeping Republican leaders up at night, according to interviews with a dozen knowledgeable GOP operatives from across the Republican ideological spectrum:

1) Congress doesn't get anything done

The Republican-controlled Congress has failed repeatedly to make good on the years-long conservative pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare. Now, the pressure is on to deliver on tax reform. Most strategists expressed optimism that Congress would be able to notch some deal that lawmakers could sell as a boon to the economy -- and to voters' wallets -- simply because the stakes are so high.

But that doesn't mean they aren't worried. After all, Obamacare repeal was considered a top priority, too -- until it fell apart.

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