- Party divided on what, if anything, to do about Trump's rise
- Some cling to hope he will fade as more candidates drop out
Donald Trump’s opponents are still holding out hope that there’s a way to derail his bid for the Republican nomination, but it’s clear that Republicans in Congress don’t have a plan to stop him.
For one thing, they can’t agree they should even try.
“I’m flattered that you think that voters really care what senators think,” the number two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, said Wednesday. “My impression is that voters are voting their own minds and they’re not looking for guidance or direction from me or anyone else.”
Even if Congress won’t act, others in the party are stepping up to take on Trump. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, lashed out at Trump in a speech Thursday, calling him a bad businessman and saying he would make America less safe and prosperous.
“If Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into a prolonged recession,” Romney said Thursday in a speech in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” Romney added.
Romney didn’t endorse any of Trump’s opponents, but he did suggest that Republicans should vote for the other candidate best poised to win in any particular state, in what would be an effort to deny Trump enough delegates to win the nomination outright.
Trump earlier Thursday dismissed Romney as a “disaster” and a “catastrophe” during an interview on MSNBC.
The topic of how to stop Trump has dominated talk in Republican circles, with one conservative super-political action committee launching a series of Web ads highlighting Trump’s more controversial positions. Some prominent Republicans, including Senator Ben Sasse and Romney campaign strategist Stuart Stevens, have said they won’t vote for Trump if he is the nominee.
But the party has failed to come together behind either a candidate or a strategy to stop the billionaire’s rise, and Congress is no different.
Lawmakers who oppose Trump don’t want to alienate the candidate’s supporters in their districts, but many remain deeply uneasy about Trump’s unpredictability and magnetism for controversy.
The closest thing to a plan appears to involve clinging to the hope that Trump might self-destruct before wrapping up the nomination.
“The idea is that he keeps playing Russian roulette with himself, and that the gun will eventually go off,” said Representative Austin Scott of Georgia.
The rest are mostly watching to see if Trump succeeds in becoming the standard-bearer for their party in 2016.
A few members are jumping on board with Trump.
‘Scared to Death’
Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, who endorsed Trump before Super Tuesday, said Wednesday he hopes to meet with the billionaire’s camp in the next few days, and talk to the candidate.
“The D.C. establishment is scared to death,” said Marino, who said he is unaware of any formal organizing either on behalf or opposed to Trump within the House Republican conference.
The Trump campaign has been in contact with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, but the pair have not spoken yet, Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement Wednesday.
The closest thing in Congress to a Trump strategy probably unfolded when, after South Carolina, a wave of lawmakers endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio’s weak showing on Super Tuesday has blunted his momentum, but his backers still insist they see a path to him winning with states coming up more favorable to him.
It’s still “entirely possible” for Rubio to win, Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said in an interview at the Capitol on Wednesday.
And while Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called Tuesday night for Republicans to unite the non-Trump votes under his banner, that’s not happening yet.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina agreed that consolidating the field is the only way to beat Trump.
“Nobody’s going to win by tearing Trump down,” he said. “We’re not going to win by talking about him as a person or his ill-conceived policy ideas. The only way you win is by consolidating the field. That’s obvious to me.”
However, Cornyn doesn’t see the field consolidating much for now.
“I think the people running are looking at their own chances as well as looking at the possibility that there will be a brokered convention, figure they’ll hang in there as long as they can,” he said.
Cornyn still talks of the process sorting itself out and the party uniting behind a nominee. And he told reporters earlier this week that he’s confident there would be an effort to get Trump more in sync with Republicans running for re-election if he wins.
Ben Carson’s departure from the race would consolidate the vote a bit, which Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump opponent, on Wednesday called “a good thing.” Carson said he will skip Thursday’s televised debate and doesn’t see any “political path forward” after a poor Super Tuesday showing, though he stopped short of formally suspending his campaign.
But none of the other three candidates -- Cruz, Rubio or Ohio Governor John Kasich -- shows any sign of getting out of the race before March 15, when Kasich’s Ohio and Rubio’s Florida vote in crucial tests for each candidate.
House Republican campaign aides, meanwhile, are starting to project acceptance that the billionaire might be the Republican presidential nominee.
A House Republican political aide said in an an interview that one reason for the lack of panic is that not a single incumbent congressional Republican who faced primaries Tuesday in Texas, Alabama and other states was defeated -- or even forced into a run-off.
There is no effort under way by Ryan or National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon to try and slow down Trump’s momentum or tear him down, said the aide and several members interviewed.
For now, the focus continues to be on developing a positive Republican legislative agenda on which members can campaign.
“We have to move from being opposition party to proposition party,” Ryan said during a Facebook question-and-answer session with former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Some of the party’s candidates are already looking to make the best of the Trump phenomenon. After all -- the underlying dynamic is Republicans need Trump voters, and their energy -- in the fall.
“I really think the public is looking at Donald Trump as a disruptive technology,” Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is facing a tough re-election bid, said Wednesday. “They voted for President Obama for hope and change realizing well that’s not the change we’re looking for. OK, so now they are looking for a different type of change and they are looking for a winning attitude, a winning America.”
Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Trump’s sole Senate endorser, said the real-estate mogul is appearing “presidential” and that Congress should respond to the will of the voters responding to Trump’s tough messages on immigration and trade.
“We respond to the public,” Sessions said. “If the public votes we want to build a wall, then we’ll build a wall.”