It’s Official: The 2016 Campaign Is Going Down Ballot

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Hillary Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty. Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks before Election Day, Republican outside groups are leaving Donald Trump for dead: One of the party’s most powerful super-pacs, the Congressional Leadership Fund, is launching a series of ads decrying congressional Democrats as “rubber stamps” for President Hillary, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund are already airing commercials that implore voters to check Clinton’s power by electing GOP senators.

But Democrats are doing everything they can to tie down-ballot Republicans to Trump’s moribund campaign. After months of assuring GOP voters that their party was better than its standard-bearer, Clinton spent the weekend assailing Republican senators who put party before country by supporting the campaign of a birtherism-spreading, immigrant-bashing, pussy-grabbing, Gold Star–family–attacking ignoramus for president of the United States.

“Pat Toomey heard Donald attack a grieving Gold Star family who lost their son in the Iraq War. He heard Donald call Mexican immigrants rapists. He heard him say terrible things about women. He heard him spread the lie that our first black president wasn’t really born in America,” Clinton said, while stumping for Senator Toomey’s Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty. “Now, how much more does Pat Toomey need to hear? If he doesn’t have the courage to stand up to Donald Trump after all this, then can you be sure he’ll stand up for you when it counts?”

Clinton adapted that message for a North Carolina audience on Sunday, contrasting the moral courage of Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross with the craven cowardice of incumbent Republican — and loyal Trump endorser — Richard Burr.

“Unlike her opponent, Deborah has never been afraid to stand up to Donald Trump,” Clinton said. “She knows that people of courage and principles need to come together to reject this dangerous and divisive agenda.”

Meanwhile, President Obama is making a more expansive case against GOP cowardice, refusing to spare even those Republican lawmakers who have officially un-endorsed Trump. Speaking in Nevada, Obama refused to be impressed by GOP Senate candidate Joe Heck’s recent disavowal of the party’s nominee.

“I understand Joe Heck now wishes he never said those things about Donald Trump,” Obama said, referring to Heck’s earlier endorsement of the mogul. “But they’re on tape, they’re on the record, and now that Trump’s poll numbers are cratering, he said, ‘I’m not supporting him’? Too late! You don’t get credit for that.”

But Obama’s argument was broader than Heck, implicating the entire Republican Party — because when his presidency was shadowed by hateful conspiracy theories, the president alleged, Donald Trump wasn’t acting alone.

“They just stood by and said nothing, and their base actually began to believe this crazy stuff,” Obama said. “Donald Trump didn’t start this. He just did what he always does, which is slap his name on it, take credit for it, and promote it.”

As he tries to make Trump’s unfavorables contagious within the Republican tent, Obama is also working to infect down-ballot Democrats with a bit of his 57 percent approval rating. On Monday, he rolled out 30 endorsements of Democratic House candidates, all centered on the message “Democrats will put people first and make real progress for our country, while Republicans will continue to put party over country by supporting Donald Trump as their standard-bearer,” Politico reports.

With 15 days before our long national nightmare is over, the central argument of the 2016 campaign is whether voters should elect Republicans to check Clinton’s power — or punish them to rebuke Trump.

Ultimately, though, this debate has less to do with persuasion than it does with mobilization, as each party strives to give its base a reason to turn out for an election without a competitive presidential race.

For the moment, Democrats seem to have more interest in ratifying Clinton’s victory than Republicans do in controlling the damage wrought by Trump’s loss. An ABC News poll released over the weekend found the pool of likely Republican voters shrinking, leaving Trump 12 points behind the Democratic nominee.

It’s Official: The 2016 Campaign Is Going Down Ballot