Ill. reps. display surprising support for Trump

But that might be changing, as two of the president’s strongest backers lost in the midterms

President Donald Trump with Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Rodney Davis at a campaign rally in Murphysboro the weekend before the midterms: Hultgren paid the price for unwavering support for the president, but Davis survived in a district Trump won more comfortably in 2016. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

President Donald Trump with Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Rodney Davis at a campaign rally in Murphysboro the weekend before the midterms: Hultgren paid the price for unwavering support for the president, but Davis survived in a district Trump won more comfortably in 2016. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The Illinois congressional delegation offers surprisingly high support for President Trump, according to a well-regarded political website, but that might be changing as two of his strongest backers suffered defeats in the November midterm elections.

The renowned FiveThirtyEight.com website, developed by former University of Chicago statistician Nate Silver and known for its accurate election predictions, has put out a new set of data with the new Congress seated last week weighing the support the president enjoys among members.

Basically, the methodology is that the site tallies how often a U.S. senator or representative votes with the president, then compares that to how well Trump fared in that state or district to determine how often the elected official should have sided with Trump if following the apparent will of the voters.

For instance, both U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin registered slightly negative scores on what’s termed the “Trump plus-minus.” Trump lost Illinois to Hillary Clinton by 17.1 percentage points in 2016, thus indicating that the Illinois senators should have sided with him just 29.1 percent of the time, but Duckworth’s voting record found her siding with the president even less than that, 28 percent of the time, leading to a -1.1 score. Durbin voted with Trump 25.6 percent of the time to give him a -3.5 score. Both nevertheless placed firmly in the middle of the U.S. Senate rankings, indicating they tend to follow the will of voters where the president is concerned.

In the U.S. House, however, there was a much wider range of findings, starting at the top. Of the top 10 representatives who supported Trump more than their electorate, all failed to return to Congress this year for the 116th session. Tenth on that list was former Congressman Peter Roskam, of the suburban Chicago 6th District. Trump lost the district by 7 percentage points to Clinton, indicating a representative should nevertheless side with the president about 55 percent of the time (allowing for the power of the presidency to sway votes). Roskam, however, voted with the president 94.7 percent of the time, giving him a plus-minus score of +39.7 to place 10th in the 115th Congress. Roskam lost to current U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, and the nine members of Congress who demonstrated even more support for Trump than their electorate did all either lost or retired before the 116th Congress was seated last week.

In a way, that was not surprising. Representatives who bucked their voters to offer Trump unwavering support in districts where he lost in 2016 figured to have a hard time convincing their constituents they were truly representing them. Former Congressman Randy Hultgren’s 14th District on the outskirts of the metropolitan Chicago area actually gave Trump a victory by 3.9 percentage points in 2016, indicating that he should have sided with the president 76.7 percent of the time. But Hultgren sided with Trump even more than Roskam did, 96.8 percent of the time, giving him a score of +20.7, which opened the door to the upset victory of U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, even after Hultgren made a point of attending Trump’s campaign rally in Murphysboro in the days leading up to the midterms.

That seemed to be the tipping point. After that, Republican Congressmen Rodney Davis (+18.4), Mike Bost (+9.3), Adam Kinzinger (+7.7), John Shimkus (+3.3), and Darin LaHood (+0.5) all won re-election in districts Trump won in 2016. Bost, in fact, was the biggest beneficiary of Trump’s rally at the Southern Illinois Airport.

Congressman Mike Quigley has been one of President Trump’s harshest critics, but nevertheless voted with the president more often than vote tallies would have suggested. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Congressman Mike Quigley has been one of President Trump’s harshest critics, but nevertheless voted with the president more often than vote tallies would have suggested. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

What’s surprising is the tacit support shown for Trump by Democrats in the Illinois delegation. Congressman Brad Schneider voted with Trump 38.5 percent of the time, but that was higher than the 24.4 percent expected, as Clinton carried his district by a whopping 29.4 percentage points in 2016, for an overall score of +14.1. Chicago Congressmen Mike Quigley (+5.2) and Danny Davis (+1.5) and suburban Congressman Dan Lipinski (+2.3) all sided with Trump more than expected, in part because of Clinton’s strength in their districts. Quigley, in fact, has been one of Trump’s harshest critics on the House Intelligence Committee.

Other Democratic representatives sided with Trump less often than expected by the previous vote totals, including south-suburban Robin Kelly (-2.7), Chicago Congressmen Luis Gutierrez (-3.5) and Bobby Rush (-4.4), west-suburban Raja Krishnamoorthi (-4.1) and Bill Foster (-5.4) and north-suburban Jan Schakowsky (-7.3).

Yet the most impressive outlier was Quad Cities Rep. Cheri Bustos. Trump narrowly won her district by less than a percentage point, indicating she should have backed him 69.4 percent of the time, yet she sided with him only 36.1 percent of the time, for a score of -33.3. Even so, she won her fourth term in November by her largest margin yet, 24 percentage points, earning applause from conservative newspaper columnist George Will.

Just this week, Bustos came out against Trump’s partial government shutdown — in defense of farmers in her western Illinois district she said faced “economic distress” over the stalled Farm Bill as fallout.

Bustos did not have the highest minus score in Congress on the Trump scale by any means, but only a handful of those candidates failed to win re-election, suggesting that in the current political environment it’s easier for representatives to win re-election by fighting Trump than it is by cozying up to him.