Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a February party event that ‘purple state’ incumbents were free to run against Trump in November. Now, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee has advised vulnerable GOP Senators to stay clear of a possible “brouhaha” at the Republican National Convention.
“I’m advising candidates to be present for more unifying events,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) told reporters. His choice of words is hardly accidental, as frontrunner reality show star Donald Trump worries aloud that violence might ensue if Republicans fail to nominate him.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who made it known on Tuesday that he would be staying home during the convention to focus on his many primary opponents from the Tea Party wing as well as a strong Democratic challenger, is typical of the incumbent GOP Senators that Wicker and McConnell want to support in their reelection bids.
As The Hill.com reports, McCain won’t be alone in staying away.
GOP Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are also planning to skip the convention. Both face tough reelection races.
Kirk’s campaign manager, Kevin Artl, told the Chicago Tribune that his boss “has his own re-election to win, so he will be working hard toward that goal, not going to the Republican convention in Ohio.”
A spokeswoman for Ayotte said she won’t be there either.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is also noncommittal about attending the convention — even though it’s taking place in his home state, and he is already scheduled to appear in Cleveland at the same time.
Hoping to preserve their Senate majority, Republicans are clearly ready to put space between themselves and the potential nominee. Yet in the wake of Trump’s great homecoming victory in New York, we can also observe a dual-track approach to his candidacy.
Unlike the NRSC or senators facing tough general election climates, the Republican National Committee is negotiating their surrender.
RNC members said Trump could help improve the climate by taking steps to end the bad blood that has developed between him and the committee’s leadership, including RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Trump has said that Cruz’s harvest of delegates in Colorado, where rank-and-file Republicans did not vote or caucus, showed that the party’s nominating process is “rigged.” He has wondered whether Priebus, who is popular with the RNC ranks, should continue in his job if Trump is the nominee.
“I think it’s time for that rhetoric to end,” said Jeff Essmann, chairman of the Montana Republican Party.
Like an oyster which turns an irritating bit of shell into a pearl, the plan is to surround Trump in shiny gloss that protects the fleshy portion of the GOP from cuts and injury.
On the one hand, they will need to flatter Trump long enough for his candidacy to play out, hopefully doing minimal damage. On the other hand, Republicans in reelection trouble will keep their distance, and even run away from Trump, in order to keep their offices.
Trump seems likely at this point to arrive in Cleveland with enough delegates to win the nomination outright, spoiling Sen. Ted Cruz’s efforts to swindle the nomination on a second ballot. Understandably, it is also in the party’s interests to avoid an ugly contested convention if possible.
Should he turn out to be the terrible general election contender that polling predicts, the GOP can survive Trump’s candidacy by maintaining their grip on real power in Congress and state legislatures.
If, as November approaches, polls show Trump losing, they can even argue for their own reelections as a necessary check on the power of his Democratic opponent. See how that works?
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