By Nolan McCaskill
May 4, 2016
It's morning in Donald Trump's America. And the Republican Party is nursing a severe hangover.
Shell-shocked Republicans on Wednesday struggled to come to terms with Trump as their nominee, with many refusing to fall in line behind the real estate mogul and others only begrudgingly saying they'll support their party's candidate, without using the T-word.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert balked at backing Trump without an apology for his rhetoric toward Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and warned that Trump could cost Republicans a majority in Congress.
“I had no fear of losing the House until I saw this weekend the commercial against Sen. John Boozman in Arkansas. They run quote after quote from Donald Trump's mouth,” Gohmert told Fox Business Network. “This is a dangerous time.”
Meanwhile, Leon Wolf, managing editor of the conservative blog RedState, wrote that “Republicans must know that there is absolutely no chance that we will win the White House in 2016 now.”
They added to the chorus of voices that emerged Tuesday night after Trump knocked Cruz out of the race with a blowout in Indiana, setting off a fresh round of hand-wringing. Some in the anti-Trump movement refused to put down their arms, and a few establishment Republicans even said they would rather vote for Hillary Clinton than back Trump.
But with Trump on a glide path to the nomination — even more so with John Kasich due to drop out later Wednesday — the party apparatus is pushing its members to swallow their pride.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who declared Trump the presumptive nominee on Tuesday night, called for the party to unify behind him but even noted himself on Wednesday that it may not be so easy.
“Well, look, I mean, there’s going to be time here in the next months to heal and come together, and that’s what today is all about,” he told CNN. “It’s starting that process. It’s not easy.”
His message to unify has resonated with some lawmakers. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she would support but not endorse Trump, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) signaled she would also back the businessman — if he halted his “gratuitous personal insults.”
But the early signs of movement to the mogul's side was met with a swift backlash from anti-Trump forces. Tim Miller, Jeb Bush's former communications director who later joined an anti-Trump super PAC, called Collins' remark “[a]kin to saying you'll support him if he turns into a benevolent talking spider that sacrifices herself to save a pig,” tweeted Tim Miller, communications director for an anti-Trump super PAC.
As Republicans began grappling with their day of reckoning, the real estate mogul had already shifted into general election mode, vetting vice president picks and talking openly about playing a bigger role in the GOP money race.
He dominated the morning talk shows on Wednesday, and was peppered with questions about his vetting of veep candidates, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his selection will definitely be a Republican and is likely to be a politician.
“I would like to have somebody that could truly be good with respect to dealing with the Senate, dealing with Congress, getting legislation passed, working toward something where we’re not signing executive orders every three days like President Obama does,” Trump said.
In an interview with The New York Times, Trump said he didn’t plan to announce a running mate until July but would name a selection committee soon.
“I think on the committee I’ll have Dr. Ben Carson and some other folks,” Trump said.
He noted later that he has been in contact with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio but would only add that he’s considering a lot of people when asked whether Rubio was on his short list.
“I think that, you know, a lot of people are talking about certain names, and certainly those are the names we are thinking of,” he said during a phone interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Trump, who has so far largely self-funded his campaign, also talked about the possibility of evolving his operation as he sets his sights on Clinton, who will undoubtedly be able to supercharge her own fundraising as she becomes the one person who stands in between Trump and the White House.
He revealed that he’s spent $44 million on his campaign so far and predicted that the general election could cost upwards of $1 billion. And while he signaled that he would write big checks for the party and may be open to big donor contributions for the GOP, he said he wants only small contributions for his campaign.
“I'm not looking for myself. I'm looking for the party, where the party, you know, is going to receive a lot of money so the party can compete,” Trump said. “Including its Senate races. Including its congressional races. And, you know, I think that's a very big part of it. That's a big part of what I want to do. I want to raise a lot of money for the party itself.”
Trump, who began expanding his small operation in recent months with key hires like Paul Manafort, said he will continue to build up his campaign staff.
“We already have a great staff. I mean, I have a great group of people,” he said. “I have a terrific staff and now, obviously, we’re gonna have to build it up because we'll be going all over the country.”
Trump also expressed confidence that he will beat Clinton at the ballot box this fall, though a CNN/ORC national poll released Wednesday suggests he has a steep hill to climb.
“I think we’re gonna beat Hillary Clinton,” Trump, who trails Clinton by 13 points in the survey, told Fox News in a phone interview. “She’s horrible on the economy, horrible on jobs. She’s really horrible on the military.”
But many Republicans are still moving through the stages of grief about the presidential race, with a limited number reaching acceptance.
Former John McCain speechwriter Mark Salter and conservative pundit Ben Howe announced their anti-Trump support for Clinton via Twitter on Tuesday night in what was just the beginning.
“The hour of reckoning for the Never Trump movement is now before us,” said Steve Schmidt, the GOP strategist who ran McCain’s 2008 campaign. “There are scores of these people who say they’ll still support the GOP nominee. That has been an incongruent position for some time, but never more so than it is now.”
Priebus acknowledged that a year ago not even he expected to see this day. But he also suggested it could be a boon for the GOP.
“You know what, I think something different and something new is probably good for our party,” he said. “Look, I don’t think anyone predicted what happened. So, look, we’re here. We’re going to get behind the presumptive nominee.”
It’s unclear whether Cruz would support Trump — who again breathed life into the rumor that Cruz’s father was associated with John F. Kennedy’s assassin — but his New Hampshire co-chair Bill O’Brien told the Union Leader that he certainly won’t.
Others were holding out hope, seeing Cruz's support as an important step in unifying the Republican Party before the convention in July. RNC communications director Sean Spicer said on MSNBC that things were “very tense in the heat” of the primary between Trump and Cruz but added that he hoped the senator would understand what’s at stake and eventually support Trump.
Ultimately, Priebus argued, “I think people are going to understand that the words ‘President Hillary Clinton’ is something that we can’t stand for.”
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