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Will Trump Team Scandals Weigh Down GOP in November?

Some say recent corruption allegations in Trump's inner circle could influence the 2018 midterms.
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Will Trump Team Scandals Weigh Down GOP in November?

President Donald Trump campaigned on promises to "drain the swamp" and kick corrupt politicians out of Washington.

"For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost," Trump said at his inaugural address. "Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. ... That all changes starting right here and right now."

But since taking office, Trump has struggled as members of his own administration have been caught in the types of controversies he campaigned against — and that could influence the choices voters make in November. 

"I think ethics in government is definitely one of those issues that can cause voters who otherwise would vote for one party to switch on a dime," said GOP strategist Liz Mair. 

A number of prominent members of Trump's inner circle have resigned amid accusations of corruption, and some are now facing criminal charges. It began with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who stepped down in September 2017 amid reports he spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money on private flights for himself and his wife. A month later, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was arrested on charges of money laundering and bank fraud. In March, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin was fired following allegations he misused taxpayer money to travel. In July, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid multiple spending scandals. And earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, one of Trump's earliest supporters in Congress and a member of the presidential transition team, was charged with insider trading

Trump's political opponents have been quick to seize on the growing list of ethics scandals. Shortly after Collins was arrested, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement saying, "For all Republicans’ talk of ‘Draining the Swamp', they are finding it all but impossible to avoid associations with corruption, misconduct, and pay-to-play politics that Americans are sick of." But anti-corruption isn't a message that Democrats can own entirely. 

Ethical scandals are not by any means confined to the GOP. Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison has been accused of domestic violence twice, though he denies the allegations; Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted on corruption charges in 2015, though his trial ultimately ended in a hung jury; and Sen. Al Franken resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct last year. 

"That cloud is hanging over the Democratic Party's head, too," said Dave Levinthal, senior political reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. "But we haven't seen on the Democratic side in the past two years quite the crush of corruption-related accusations and allegations that've come on the Republican side. And not just on the Republican side writ-large, the Republican side with people who are very, very close to Donald Trump."

When it comes to scandals and alleged corruption, there's no clear way to predict how voters will react. And the president, who has faced his own controversies surrounding business dealings and potential campaign ties to Russia, currently stands at a 42.2 percent approval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight. 

"Voters are continually shopping for people who are going to bring better ethics to the table in governing and probably, if anything, the fact that there are swings back and forth indicates that they don't feel that they're adequately getting that from either party," Mair said.