With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, Republicans across the country are all running into the same problem. Early in his candidacy, Trump made inflammatory statements regarding immigrants and Muslims. After he won the nomination, however, he stepped into even more dangerous, toxic territory. He said a judge could not hear his case because of his Mexican heritage, he insulted a gold star family, and tapes were released where he described himself sexually assaulting women. After all of these developments, many Republicans have either condemned Trump’s statements, refused to endorse him, or called for him to drop out. Many critics from the other side of the aisle are pushing all Republicans to dump their unpopular nominee. However, it seems like they don’t understand the difficult conflict that Republican leaders find themselves in.
13.3 million votes. That is the number of primary voters who walked into the ballot box on election day and cast their vote for Trump. That also happens to be the most votes ever cast for a candidate in the GOP primary. Hillary Clinton might consider half of these folks to be in the “basket of deplorables,” but they are still primary voters for the Republican party. They played by the rules of the game and voted for their candidate just like everyone else. Therefore, they expect their votes to receive the same respect from the GOP, party leadership, and elected officials. Dumping Trump means rejecting the will of millions of voters and putting their future support of the party on the line.
37 States. That is the number of primary contests Donald Trump won last spring. Out of those 37 states, five states (Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) have very close senate elections down the ballot. Marco Rubio, Richard Burr, Kelly Ayotte, Joe Heck, and Pat Toomey all face difficult decisions. With Trump becoming so toxic after the leaked tape, it would be beneficial for them to “dump Trump” to show that they think independently to win voters back. But, the Trump voters have power in each of these states. Even if these candidates were able to make it to the Senate, in 6 years they could very well have a Trump-like primary challenger waiting for them. Each of these candidates has handled Trump differently. I interned on the Pat Toomey campaign this summer, and when we answered phones from callers asking if Toomey supports Trump, we always gave a nuanced answer. It normally sounded like “While Senator Toomey is inclined to support the Republican nominee, he has expressed reservations about Mr. Trump. He condemned (insert latest controversial statement here), but thought Mr. Trump’s meeting with Senators on Capitol Hill was productive.” That response walked a fine line, which caused the Jimmy Kimmel bit below.
So why do Republican elected officials do this dance? It’s because they don’t want to invoke the wrath of Trump. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told GOP members to do what they needed regarding Trump to win their respective elections. While this is a smart call to win elections, it insults the democratic will of the people. Donald Trump knows that and lets all of his supporters know that. That’s why he tweets about his problems with GOP leadership and Paul Ryan and goes after them on the stump. Now, the once popular Vice Presidential nominee is on the chopping block with many Republicans. One supporter told me at a rally in Charlotte that Paul Ryan “deserves to be hanged.” Senate candidates do not want to become unpopular with Trump or Trump supporters (at least until the end of the election), but also feel they have to condemn his statements to keep the support of swing voters. This difficult calculus has lead to many Republican candidates taking nuanced positions about Trump, most of which are fair and balance the will of the voters with the need to win this election. If it were simple, I have no doubt the GOP would dump Donald Trump. Too bad those voters got in the way.