Republicans running for office nationwide face the same struggle John James does as they support an increasingly unpopular president.
MICHIGAN — Republican Senate candidate John James has a complex relationship with President Donald Trump, and that in turn is complicating his campaign.
In 2018, during his unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, James made the statement that he was “2,000%” behind Trump. As The ‘Gander reported, that remark has hung over him during his attempt to unseat Michigan’s other senator, Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.
James has remained supportive of Trump in general but made his endorsement of the president a bit less forceful, saying he was running as his own man.
“I’m looking forward to running my own race, being my own man,” James said. “Of course I support the president for reelection.”
But when President Trump appeared in Ypsilanti in May, his close relationship with James was something he leaned on heavily, spotlighting the senate candidate repeatedly during his visit to a Ford plant.
James also told Black leaders that he thought it was pointless to call out Trump’s racist rhetoric and actions. The Metro Times reported leaked audio of James arguing for not publicly criticizing Trump in order to seek a place of influence in his orbit.
James’ complicated connection with the top of the ticket in November is part of a larger pattern.
Sens. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) and Steve Daines (R-Montana) remained enthusiastically in support of Trump’s reelection, but others like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) claimed to be working in D.C. while Trump visited Maine, despite the Senate not being in session.
This hasn’t come without cost. New York Times polls released Thursday showed Peters ahead of James by ten points in a race that has been, until recently, rather close. James’ slide parallels others, the Times reported.
The Times directly attributed this slide to the increasing unpopularity Trump faces following a series of crises in 2020.
“The election is a referendum on Trump,” Kirk Adams, a Republican and former Arizona State House speaker, told the Times. “That could change, but until then, down-ballot Republicans will have to decide if they will ride the Trump train to its final destination or if they need to establish some brand independence.”
The Trump campaign, though, has encouraged Republican candidates to stay on that Trump train.
“Anyone who wants to win in November should be running with the president,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine.
Republican candidates are “hostages,” said Trump critic Tim Miller, an aide to past GOP presidential contenders including Jeb Bush. But he said Trump’s recent problems, like retweeting a false conspiracy theory about an elderly Buffalo, New York, protester shoved to the ground by police, offer an opening.
“I’m not asking them to become Twitter trolls,” Miller said. “But I don’t see why they don’t take opportunities to put a little distance between themselves and the president.”
Trump has pushed his Capitol Hill allies to keep rank-and-file Republicans in line and vowed to retaliate against defectors, said three White House and campaign officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.