To Choose Trump or Not

Republicans distance themselves from front-runner at their own peril

As Donald Trump’s success in the primaries continues to divide the GOP, some Republican politicians are distancing themselves from the controversial business mogul — and they may be doing so at their own risk.

It is understandable that congressmen concerned about their reelection bids may fear being associated with Trump the man, especially considering some of the candidate’s more contentious statements. However, ignoring the anti-Establishment revolt that Trump represents could have even worse implications for their electoral prospects in the future.

In denouncing Trump’s candidacy outright, Republicans risk bashing the issues that propelled Trump to the top of the polls in the first place, as well as alienating the legion of GOP and independent voters clearly attracted to Trump’s message.

“Every single person who has attacked me has gone down,” Trump said at one of his Florida resorts after racking up more wins in Tuesday’s contests.

A January 2016 Gallup study found that Americans said the two top problems for the country in 2015 were the government and the economy. The third biggest problem, Americans said, was unemployment, followed by immigration in fourth — the first time immigration ranked in the top four in almost a decade.

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While many Establishment Republicans dislike Trump, a lot of Americans — Republican, Democrat, and Independent alike — clearly like the message Trump is delivering. But some House Republicans such as Carlos Curbelo and Bob Dold, who are facing tough reelection battles in districts not exactly conducive to creating Trump supporters, have resoundingly renounced Trump.

Curbelo, who hails from a relatively moderate and majority Hispanic district in Florida, claimed unconvincingly that he isn’t supporting Trump “because I’m not bound by party labels,” and not because of his district’s demographics.

Dold represents the northern suburbs of Chicago, another area not exactly known for its support of ideological conservatism or red-blooded populism. Dold claims his anti-Trump stance is based solely on Trump’s insulting Sen. John McCain, but as with Curbelo, the electoral realities of his district undermine his claim.

Some congressmen, while neither supporting or denouncing Trump, have indicated they would support him in a general election match-up against Hillary Clinton. “If he is our party’s nominee against Hillary Clinton, it’s a very easy decision,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.). Zeldin is a freshman congressman whose Long Island district was previously represented by a Democrat for more than a decade.

Even Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who said electing Trump would not be “offering the American people the best our party has to offer,” has indicated his willingness to support Trump should he receive the nomination.

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However, most Representatives facing difficult reelection fights seem to be staying out of the fray completely, the Hill reported on Sunday, as multiple House Republicans approached by the publication declined “abruptly” to comment on Trump. They join a number of GOP governors who are also avoiding wading into the Trump fray, and seem particularly keen to disassociate themselves from the “dump Trump” movement within the party Establishment.

So far only 10 of the 31 Republican governors have backed one of the Republican candidates. That a majority of GOP governors have yet to offer an endorsement “this late in the process really indicates the paralysis and division in Republican elite circles,” said David Karol, a political science professor at the University of Maryland.

This paralysis is to be expected. Trump’s success could either herald the birth of a truly anti-Establishment wing within the GOP, or, should the Establishment manage to stop his candidacy, it could be a mere footnote in the history of Marco Rubio’s New American Century (of old neoconservative ideas).

Indeed, the Establishment is more afraid of this occurring than they are of anything Trump might do, which is why they are not supporting Cruz — the only other candidate polling suggests is capable of defeating Trump for the nomination.

The Establishment worries “about Ted Cruz a lot more,” said New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters on “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Tuesday. But even if the Establishment manages to maintain control of the GOP, Trump’s anti-Establishment message has already reached the hearts and minds of voters.

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