Since 2016, Trump has especially alienated suburban women voters, who’ve been put off by his rhetoric. Yet even if Trump doesn’t believe he needs these voters to win reelection, his Senate allies likely do. “In almost all these states where Republicans are at risk, the election turns on, primarily, independent women voters,” Judd Gregg, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, told me. “But they are very frustrated and antagonized by the president’s character. And so they’re in play. No question about it.”
“They like his policies; they really are turned off by his tweets,” Sarah Chamberlain, the CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate Republican advocacy group, told me. (There’s a rich history of the president’s allies trying to get him to stop—please, stop—tweeting. Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma told me that Trump called him in 2017 about a vote on the federal budget. As they were getting ready to hang up, Trump asked, Do you have any advice for me? Cole suggested he tweet less. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Trump replied, adding that he can reach millions of Americans through social media in seconds.)
Unnerving even to some of Trump’s political advisers was his string of daily news conferences on COVID-19, where he dispensed grievances, gave dubious medical advice, and, in the process, helped make himself the face of the federal government’s flawed response. “What might have tipped the scales a little bit [against Trump] was the whole thing about, ‘Can we inject or swallow disinfectant?’” Senator Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat facing a tough reelection bid, told me. “I’ve got moms and dads out there who all of a sudden are covering their children’s ears because they teach them to stay away from things like that!”
Some vulnerable GOP senators have already been trying to telegraph independence from Trump. A 30-second ad released by Gardner last week, for example, includes no mention of the president, who lost Colorado in 2016. The ad boasts that Gardner procured masks for Coloradans from South Korea, but it’s silent on the ventilators he got from Trump. (The president happily tweeted last month that he’d sent the state 100 such machines at Gardner’s request.) Instead, the ad features testimonials from Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, about the cooperation he’s gotten from Gardner in handling the pandemic.
Across the country in Maine, Collins has sided with Trump when it’s mattered most to him, voting against both impeachment articles this year, and voting to confirm his embattled Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in 2018. At various times, she’s tut-tutted about Trump’s behavior. But her mild rebukes may not be enough to convince her coalition that she’s a brake on the president, who’s demolished the traditional safeguards used to hold his administration accountable. Most recently, she’s objected to his firing of government inspectors general. That in itself underscores the challenge Collins could face with voters. After Trump was acquitted on two impeachment counts, Collins famously said that he had learned “a pretty big lesson.” Clearly he hadn’t.