When Donald Trump spent most of the night yesterday at an election rally for Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate in the race for the 18th Congressional district of Pennsylvania, talking about himself and his supposed accomplishments, most people thought it was just business as usual for the man who never met a mirror he didn’t love.
But the folks over at Axios have discovered the real reason that Trump barely mentioned the candidate that he was ostensibly at the rally to support: he thinks that Saccone is a “terrible, ‘weak’ candidate, according to four sources who’ve spoken to the president about him.”
Trump’s opinion, which he reportedly held even before he arrived in Pennsylvania to meet Saccone, is considered conventional wisdom among the Republican leadership who regard his Democratic opponent, Conor Lamb, as a much better candidate for the race.
Lamb, a lawyer, Marine, and former federal prosecutor, is a blue dog Democrat in a district that Trump won by 20 points. He supports gun rights, and although he supports a woman’s right to chose, he personally opposes abortion.
He’s definitely not the kind of candidate who will alienate middle of the road voters that the Democrats need to win in this district, one that will cease to exist in its current form after this election due to the new electoral maps to be instituted in the wake of court challenges to the heavily gerrymandered maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature.
The most salient reason that Trump and Republican leadership have soured on Saccone is that Lamb has raised nearly 500 times more campaign funds than his GOP challenger. This, among other reasons, has led to a race that pollsters are saying is too close to call.
In a district that has been so solidly Republican for so many years, the fact that the contest is even in contention is evidence that not only has the GOP fielded an unimpressive candidate but that the halo effect of President Trump’s unpopularity is dragging down the entire party along with him.
That’s the most likely reason that the party is leaking negative opinions about their own candidate. If Saccone loses to Lamb this week, they can avoid blaming the President’s negative polls as the reason and instead chalk it up to a weak candidate who let his opponent runs rings around him.
Whatever the outcome of the election, however, the very possibility of a Democrat being elected in such a formerly pro-Trump district is sending shivers down the spines of Republicans looking ahead to the midterms when they can’t blame every loss on a weak candidate.