Republicans in Congress fear President Trump could torpedo their majorities if he doesn't save his White House from constant crisis and pivot to the issues voters elected him to deal with.
Trump has been besieged by his handling of the firing of James Comey, reports he had previously pressured the FBI director to drop the investigation of national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the discovery that he shared classified information with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting.
Republicans have grown accustomed to Trump's tumult, tending to downplay it because the president has weathered past challenges that might have sunk conventional politicians. But this is different, lawmakers and GOP strategists conceded Tuesday, in interviews with the Washington Examiner.
"You have this White House that is lurching from crisis to crisis, the image is of disarray – they can't get their hands around the basic day-to-day agenda, and define the progress they have made" Republican pollster David Winston said. "One of the things that the president has is the bully pulpit; the bully pulpit lets you drive the agenda and these crises haven't let the White House effectively get there."
"This is concerning and alarming," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said flatly. "We're going to have to confront these issues as a Congress."
Republicans see red flags because foreign policy and national security are at the center of the crises that have engulfed Trump over the past seven days.
Concerns about Trump's fitness to serve as commander-in-chief has been a weak spot with independents and GOP voters outside of his loyal base. These voters form the backbone of the coalition that elected the president and Republican majorities in the House and Senate in November.
They had long ago resigned themselves to the constant tweeting and other uncomfortable aspects of Trump's unusual style.
But a belief that he is not competent to conduct foreign policy as fallout especially from his sharing classified intelligence with the Russians, could sunder the party's electoral coalition heading into 2018.
That could cost Senate Republicans an opportunity to profit from a favorable map and pick up seats. House Republicans, who are protecting a 24-seat majority and defending 23 seats that Hillary Clinton won in November, could find themselves in even worse shape.
"The last couple weeks have left a mark," a GOP consultant said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. "The risks of going down the present path include diminished enthusiasm in the base, low fundraising and candidate recruitment problems in down ballot races."
If Republicans on Capitol Hill begin to fear that outcome, they'll abandon Trump, depriving him, and themselves, of the legislative wins they need to give soft Republicans and independents a reason to show up to vote next year — and vote GOP.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said that Republicans are going to have to fight through White House "distractions" and deliver a legislative agenda. The former chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm, the NRSC, acknowledged the difficulty Trump is creating for his party.
"It's challenging; it's challenging," he said. "We need to be productive."
Trump's job approval in the RealClearPolitics average stood at 40.7 percent, dangerous territory for House and Senate Republicans if the president can't bring his chaotic White House under control.
Democrats hold a 46.2 percent to 39.5 percent lead over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot. Combined with Trump's crisis-a-minute leadership, numbers like these will encourage liberal fundraising and Democratic recruiting, and could leave Republicans dispirited.
An adviser to a Republican being recruited for a marquee congressional race in 2018 said the president's behavior was concerning. "I'd be a fool if I said it wasn't causing us at least a little heartburn," this individual said. "I mean, seriously, when is this shit going to stop?"
A Republican lobbyist who is actively raising money for the party said the complaints have been piling up from donors. They don't think that the problem is media persecution or Democratic obstruction, they think the problem is the president.
"People are feeling – it's disgust, it's shame, it's you name it, all of the above," the lobbyist said. Asked for examples of the complaints fielded, the lobbyist added: "When is this going to end? How can we recover? These are clowns."