Senate Republicans are bullish that 2024 will conclude with former President Trump’s return to the White House and the party back in the majority in the upper chamber after a four-year hiatus, as primary and caucus season kicks off in Iowa this week.
Trump is heading into Monday night’s first-in-the-nation caucuses as the prohibitive favorite to take home the GOP presidential nomination. That possibility could crystallize in the coming weeks if he handily wins Iowa and defeats former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) in New Hampshire, where she has gained steam, and in her home state.
The GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate majority are also in solid shape, especially after Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) retirement announcement all but handed the seat to Republicans. That would give them 50 seats, meaning they would need just one more pickup, or the presidency, to flip control of the chamber.
All told, Senate Republicans feel the wind in their sails as ballots start to be counted.
“Both look really good,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), said of the possibility of winning back the White House and the majority. “People are over it with [President Biden], and I just think that whoever we nominate is going to be well-positioned to win the presidency, and I think that bodes well for the Senate.”
Trump is the overwhelming favorite to take home the GOP nod for a third consecutive time, after seeing most of his rivals falter.
In Iowa, Trump is leading Haley by 37 points and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by 38.5 points, according to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ polling average.
DeSantis was initially seen as Trump’s top competitor after a massive reelection win in Florida in 2022, but his campaign has run into trouble.
Haley, meanwhile, has seen her star rise in the Granite State. The former ambassador to the United Nations got a key win last week, when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped out of the race.
However, she is still 11 points behind Trump in The Hill/Decision Desk HQ average, and a defeat there could spell the end of the primary battle altogether.
“I think the primary … will be over in a couple of weeks,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), an early backer of the former president. “I don’t think anything in the last few days changes the trajectory or the dynamic.”
“But there’s still real estate between here and there, no doubt about it,” Schmitt continued. “But I think he’s in a strong position.”
Trump has also seen his standing increase among Senate Republicans, as 20 members have endorsed his campaign, including a number in recent weeks ahead of Iowa. Headlining that group is Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 member of leadership and the highest ranked member to back his bid.
Fall polls saw Trump topping Biden him in a number of battleground states, prompting concern in some Democratic circles. However, those polling numbers are starting to tighten up once again as the economic portrait of the country has started to improve.
Republicans for months have been beating the economic drum, arguing that the president’s policies have been too costly for Americans across the board — an idea that has been borne out in recent surveys.
However, their arguments could be undercut by an improving economic conditions. The Consumer Price Index for December showed that prices rose annually by 3.4 percent — a significant downturn from the 6.4 percent increase experienced between the prior two Decembers. Republicans maintain, though, that the economic distress from the first three years of Biden’s presidency is baked in with voters, and that it is unlikely that feeling will subside by the time voters cast their ballots in the fall.
“The damage has been done by the Biden economy and Bidenflation has been profound,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the chair of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, told The Hill. “The average American has been hurt and has seen a significant pay cut in their paycheck. That’s not going away.”
As for the Senate majority fight, Republicans universally remain confident.
They point to one of the best maps they’ve had in recent cycles and say they can go on offense with what they hope is an improved class of candidates.
Only 10 Republicans are defending seats this year, compared to 23 Democrats, including independents who caucus or vote with the majority party.
The top targets are Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in a pair of red states. Seats in a number of other battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada, are also up this year.
But Daines acknowledges the road will not be easy, as most of the contested races will be against sitting Democrats who have proven difficult to defeat in recent cycles.
“It’s the best map we’ve had in 10 years; I’d rather be us than them. But you can’t fall in love with the map,” Daines said, referencing an oft-used line by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Incumbent senators are tough to beat.”
And there are pitfalls that could stand between Republicans and their hopes of retaking power in Washington. While the next month of election results could be great for Trump, he continues to deal with four indictments related to his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, his handling of classified documents and allegations of falsifying business records in New York.
In addition, the ongoing chaos by House Republicans continues to create headaches that could affect the party, some Senate GOP members warn.
Those issues were on full display late last week, as House Freedom Caucus members pushed Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to abandon his agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on government funding top-line figures, causing heartburn for members on both sides of the aisle in the process.
“I don’t know. I’m worried about that. It depends upon who our candidate is as to what our probability of success is to get the White House back,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who has been critical in the past of the ex-president.
“The House Republicans have the majority, and they have not been able to rule as a majority because they haven’t been able to find agreement among themselves. That’s not a good sign for continued success in the election process,” Rounds continued. “I am concerned, and I think the Senate very well may be the firewall.”