Posted: March 4, 2016
By Celia Cohen
Delaware Republicans are whistling past Donald Trump, as if he were a graveyard.
This is different from Republicans in Washington, D.C., where they are wigging out, or is it possibly Whigging out, as in fear of their party going the way of the Whigs?
Whether or not Trump turns out to be an existential threat to the D.C. Republicans, he certainly looks like a political one.
His presence at the top of the ticket would likely cost the Republicans their majority in the U.S. Senate, as suggested by the Crystal Ball, the weekly analysis from Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia and prognosticator extraordinaire.
"Donald Trump is very likely the patented cure for low Democratic turnout," the Crystal Ball predicted Thursday in a column co-authored by Sabato and Kyle Kondik.
Here at home, though, there is not the same sense among Republicans that Trump would mean doom for them, or at least there is no sense of it yet, and there is even some speculation he could actually help, but who knows?
"That is the $64,000 question," said Charlie Copeland, the Republican state chair.
The Republicans are even seeing some stirrings in their favor.
For one thing, they have had about two dozen non-Republicans ask for Trump yard signs. For another, they have just slipped by the Democrats in voter registration in Sussex County, where there are now 237 more Republican than Democratic voters. True, it is Sussex County, where just about everyone votes conservative, anyway, but still.
It could be a trend. It could be an aberration. This is a deep-blue Democratic state, where the Democrats routinely pad their lead in voter registration month by month, until it now stands at 126,400 more Democratic than Republican voters -- with 47 percent of the statewide electorate registered with the Democrats, 28 percent with the Republicans and 25 percent with others.
Meanwhile, the Democrats here are more inclined to think Trump will trump the Republicans, because only the Democrats can trump themselves.
"If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, I think a lot more Democrats come out to vote. It would be a positive effect, up and down the ballot," said Patti Blevins, the state Senate's Democratic president pro tem.
"I just hope we don't become complacent. You don't want Democrats to think he's so laughable we don't need to worry. He's playing to something in America that frightens me as an African-American," said Margaret Rose Henry, the state Senate's Democratic majority whip.
It pays to remember where the Republican Party is in Delaware right now. Nowhere-ville.
The governor is a Democrat, and even worse, the Republicans have not elected a governor since 1988. The federal delegation is all-Democratic. The General Assembly is entirely controlled by the Democrats. The Republicans went 0-for-20-years in electing someone new to statewide office before Ken Simpler won as treasurer in 2014.
This could be a big reason Trump cannot really hurt the Republicans here. How low can they go?
Besides, there is a certain amount of insulation that comes from running in state races.
"The higher you go on the ballot, the more you're likely to be affected by who's running for president. Local races are often decided by people who know the local candidates," said Mike Castle, the Republican ex-governor and ex-congressman.
Castle, by the way, was holding back on endorsing anyone, but after the Republican candidates' "small hands" debate Thursday evening on Fox News, he had enough. He officially went with John Kasich, who was once a congressional colleague.
What the state Republicans would like to think could happen is Trump would attract a slew of disaffected voters to their party, voters who see Delaware going in the wrong direction and decide the time has come to throw the bums out, namely, the Democrats who are running everything.
"Donald Trump knows how to get attention, and he's talking about issues that people talk about among themselves but weren't being addressed politically. There's always a trickle-down effect. We talk about the problems of one-party rule, and people are becoming sensitive to that," said Ruth Briggs King, a Republican state representative from Sussex County.
Colin Bonini, the Republican state senator running for governor, is banking his campaign on an uprising of disaffected voters like the people drawn to Trump, because what else is there?
The Democratic candidate for governor is John Carney, who has already won five statewide campaigns for congressman and lieutenant governor and also weathered a defeat in a 2008 gubernatorial primary, while Bonini lost his only statewide race for treasurer in 2010.
In a world divided between what Bonini calls the "dealmakers" and the "deal-with-its," that is, the people stuck with dealing with what the dealmakers decide, he is going for the votes of the deal-with-its whose presidential preference comes down to this -- "we support Donald Trump because you don't want us to." So there.
"It's not just the Tea Party people. It's the Tea Party-plus," said Bonini, who has not endorsed anyone in the presidential contest.
"Something's happening out there, and we have an obligation to listen to it. It's like the old saw, just because you don't like the messenger, it doesn't mean the message is wrong. There is real suffering out there, and we need to understand it. That's the message of 2016."
The state Republicans are unabashedly trying to party-build off Trump. They had the clever idea of telling people, if they want to vote for Trump or if they want to vote against him, the only way they can is to be registered Republican for the presidential primary on April 26.
"You'd be a fool not to play into that trend," said Copeland, the state chair.
The state Republicans have not had many political cards to play here, so they are going with the one they were dealt. The Trump card.