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Trump saved Balderson in Ohio, but he can't carry the midterms by himself

Conservative Review

President Donald Trump is getting credit for saving the Republican Party from a major embarrassment in Tuesday's primaries.

Republican Troy Balderson's narrow victory over Democrat Danny  O'Connor in a heavily Republican district that Trump won by 11 points in 2016 is a troubling sign for Republicans. A Democrat should not have come within 2,000 votes of beating a Republican in a district Democrats haven't held since 1983. But were it not for the "shot in the arm to base Republicans across the district" given by Trump's Saturday rally for Balderson, it's likely the Democrats might have pulled off another upset victory. Balderson's pollsters admitted as much to Politico, and "senior Republicans" are panning Balderson as a "poor candidate."

The story seems to be that Trump saved an establishment candidate running a milquetoast campaign from disaster. And make no mistake, Balderson was the establishment candidate. He was backed by the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership and endorsed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, R-NeverTrump, who featured prominently in Balderson's closing ads. Balderson favors keeping Obamacare's pre-existing conditions regulations, and he wants a special pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant so-called "Dreamers."

Balderson ran as a pro-Trump Republican in favor of repealing Obamacare and building a border wall, but his reputation as a moderate in that district and Kasich's support did not match his campaign rhetoric. That was a recipe to suppress rural voter turnout among Trump's base in rural portions of the congressional district. Turnout was higher in areas with educated suburbanites, a demographic that is more likely to support Democrats, and at the end of the day a Trump +11 district became a nail-biter on election day.

If Balderson's pollsters are right and Trump was the deciding factor in turning out enough of his base on election day to win, then this should show Republicans that the Balderson/Kasich moderate Main Street playbook is a loser in the midterms. That's not what Trump's base wants, and those voters won't turn out to vote for Republicans who aren't offering them anything unless the president himself intervenes.

Folks, Trump cannot intervene for every single vulnerable House Republican between now and November. If Republicans want to win, they need to follow the president's instincts and fight on the issues Trump talks about. If Trump talks about having a shutdown fight before the election on funding a border wall as a great campaign issue, Republicans in Congress ought to listen to him. The duck-and-cover, punt-on-tough-votes strategy is not generating enough enthusiasm to win the midterms.

If Republicans want to win, they need to follow Trump's lead and fight.

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