GOP Will Back Donald Trump—but Won’t Say His Name
As the presumptive nominee’s day on Capitol Hill went on, it became clear the GOP would learn to love him, whether it was comfortable with him or not.
Donald Trump came to Washington on Thursday with a mission: to charm the pants off the people he spent his entire primary campaign maligning.
And you know what? It seemed to work.
Never mind all the evidence that Trump has changed his mind dozens of times on myriad policy issues the party holds as gospel. Republicans on the Hill were willing to be wooed and wanted more than anything to believe the Trump Train is the vehicle that will take them to the White House.
That was not the case as recently as last week. Since he became the presumptive nominee, some Republicans have awkwardly endeavored to associate with him without really associating with him; New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, for instance, said she supports the mogul but isn’t actually endorsing him.
And plenty of members say they will support “the ticket”—a way to stoically back Trump without actually having to say his name out loud.
But on Thursday, it looked like that began to change. Republican lawmakers who spoke with Trump during his D.C. swing seemed to be warming up to his status as their new standard-bearer—and fast. This means the #NeverTrump movement may face marginalization in the party, as dissenters get quieter and establishment Republicans make peace with being in the party of Trump.
The greatest tonal shift came from Speaker Paul Ryan, who huddled with Trump and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus for just over an hour at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters two blocks from the Capitol Building. After their meeting, the speaker headed to the basement of the Capitol, where he told reporters the three had “a very good and encouraging, productive conversation” on how to unify the GOP.
“I was very encouraged with what I heard from Donald Trump today,” he said, appearing to be half-talking himself into the statement. “I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified, to bridge the gaps and differences.”
“He’s a very warm and genuine person,” he added. “Like I said, I met him for like 30 seconds in 2012, so we really don’t know each other, and we started to get to know each other.”
And with good reviews! Ryan said Trump has “a very good personality.”
Less than a week ago, the speaker told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he wasn’t ready to endorse Trump because he hadn’t yet unified the GOP.
“The bulk of the burden on unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee,” he said at the time. “I don’t want to underplay what he accomplished…But he also inherits something very special, that’s very special to a lot of us. This is the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Jack Kemp. And we don’t always nominate a Lincoln or a Reagan every four years, but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln- or Reagan-esque—that that person advances the principles of our party and appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans.”
But it wasn’t totally clear what changed on Thursday.
Ryan has repudiated Trump multiple times, including for his proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigration, and during his press conference the speaker didn’t indicate that the two men had resolved their many, major differences. But he said the pair talked about their shared opposition to abortion, as well as very basic questions of principle.
Ben Carson, a Trump endorser and former presidential rival, told The Daily Beast over the phone that he's optimistic about the pair’s budding relationship.
“I am very pleased that they were able to get together and spend a little time getting together to get to know each other,” he said. “How can you endorse someone if you don’t know them?”
The optimistic, non-critical comments suggest the speaker may be more open to joining the Trump Train than some may have assumed.
He wasn’t alone.
Sen. Lindsey Graham—one of Trump’s noisiest Republican detractors—told reporters that he called Trump on Wednesday and had a good conversation with him about national security.
“He’s a funny guy,” Graham added. “And he’s from New York. He can take a punch.”
Graham added that he’s happy about Trump’s Hill outreach.
“I think it shows leadership, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.
Graham finds himself in an odd presidential no-man’s land; he reiterated to reporters Thursday that he won’t support Trump, won’t support Hillary Clinton, and won’t support any independent or third-party candidates.
At least one Republican senator is gunning for a non-Trump, non-Clinton candidate: Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who is easily the most anti-Trump Republican in the upper chamber.
David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, said Sasse is pretty much on his own there and that there is “absolutely not” any momentum in the Senate for a conservative Trump alternative. Instead, he said he expects Senate Republicans to grow increasingly public and vocal in their support for Trump.
“I’m getting the feeling here in the Capitol just this week that there’s a growing sentiment about that,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of people coming out in the next few weeks talking about the failure of this administration and also about how she, Secretary Clinton, is talking about doubling down on [Obama’s] failed policies.”
So, for the most part, it’s official: It’s Trump’s party, and D.C. Republicans have made peace with living in it.
— Gideon Resnick contributed reporting.