New York Times
By Jennifer Steinhauer
February 29, 2016
The unraveling of a party hierarchy increasingly in the shadow of Donald J. Trump has shifted to Capitol Hill, where Republican members of Congress are beginning to split between those who could accept, even embrace, the billionaire as their nominee and those who have vowed, “Never Trump.”
Rather than unify, Republicans are feeling increasing pressure to align themselves with traditional conservatism or ride the wave of resentment toward it that has led many voters Mr. Trump’s way.
“I told Donald Trump, ‘This isn’t a campaign, this is a movement,’ ” Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, told a large crowd of supporters Sunday when he became the first senator to endorse the businessman.
But Senator Ben Sasse, the freshman Republican from Nebraska, countered on Facebook: “Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the G.O.P. establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them.”
While many senators are waiting for the results of the primaries on Tuesday to endorse Mr. Trump, renounce him or reserve the right to remain silent, many are privately pondering which camp to join. There is no playbook for the choice they face. In the last half-century, no prospective Republican front-runner at this stage has been the object of such intraparty animus.
Some members say they are merely reflecting their constituents’ views. “I come from an interesting rural county with a lot of Rust Belt union folks, and Donald Trump is truly resonating through western New York,” said Representative Chris Collins, one of a handful of House Republicans who have endorsed the front-runner. “It starts first and foremost with the leader who is going to make our borders safe again, and some of the rhetoric, he realizes, he now has to moderate.”
But other leading Republicans are saying a Trump nomination could hurt Republicans running for re-election in swing states. “We can’t have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told CNN on Monday. “That’s a concern of mine.”
Democrats are already seizing on earlier comments that Republican lawmakers, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator John McCain of Arizona, have made suggesting that they will support any nominee out of party loyalty.
Several Republican senators, led by Tim Scott of South Carolina, have enthusiastically endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, while House Republicans are more scattered in their choices. But regardless of their first choice, lawmakers are facing pressure to choose sides in what has become an almost moral quandary for Republicans: whether they can tolerate Mr. Trump as the de facto head of the party.
“Just as the burden is on the establishment to understand that Trump will likely be the nominee,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and presidential candidate, “so is the burden on Trump to understand that establishment doesn’t have to support him.”
Mr. Sessions has never been a leader of a large faction on Capitol Hill, and indeed on Monday he seemed to back away slightly from his fulsome endorsement, urging Mr. Trump to denounce white supremacists after the billionaire businessman initially declined to criticize David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
But in at least one important area, immigration, Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump are closely aligned. The senator has made it almost a single-minded pursuit to thwart any overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws that he deems “amnesty,” and he served as a one-man wrecking crew in 2006, 2007 and 2013 when Congress pursued changes to immigration laws. That role alone has made him a power broker in an election cycle in which Mr. Trump has soared in part because of his anti-immigration statements.
More Republicans, like Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have been vocal critics of Mr. Trump, and former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a staunch fiscal conservative, added his voice on Monday.
“He simply lacks the character, skills and policy knowledge to turn his grandiose promises into reality,” he said.
Mr. Coburn’s replacement, Senator James Lankford, a former minister, is unlikely to back Mr. Trump, reflecting a possibly growing discomfort with the candidate among religious conservatives even as he so far has won a sizable share of evangelicals’ votes.
“I think a lot of people in churches are starting to say, ‘This guy doesn’t reflect my values,’ ” said Tim Griffin, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, which holds a primary on Tuesday with polls indicating a close race.
“I don’t let my kids watch shows with cussing in them,” he said. “I never thought that would include Donald Trump on C-Span.”
Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, has broken with Mr. Sessions and thrown his support behind Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for the presidential nomination. Mr. Brooks has largely made an economic argument, but has also said he objects to what he characterized as Mr. Trump’s admitted history of adultery.
Some members, particularly those in tough re-election fights, are electing to stay vague and elliptical. When asked in a local radio interview Monday about Mr. Trump’s initial reluctance to denounce Mr. Duke, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said more than once that he “prays every night” that the Republican presidential nominee “is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas, and courage.”
For other members, the balance of the Supreme Court remains a key issue, and on that logic alone they are resisting being too critical of the potential nominee, no matter his flaws.
“I’d rather be in our shoes than in Hillary Clinton’s shoes any day of the week,” Mr. Collins said.
Worried about the prospects of a negative Trump effect on some House races — even though gerrymandered districts make it exceedingly unlikely for Republicans to lose the House — Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, is advising members to focus on local issues and priorities in their respective districts.
“I don’t think there is any pressure in the House,” said Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, who had endorsed Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. “I think as the winner emerges I think you will see my colleagues in the House starting to endorse the front-runner. But it will be motivated by a desire to get a seat on the bus.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com