Senate Republicans returned to Washington Monday sharply divided over having Donald Trump as their party’s presidential nominee.
The party has already been on the defensive in trying to hold on to its Senate majority in the November election, and now senators are struggling to get on the same page about Trump.
"Everyone’s going to have to make their own decision," Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told reporters. "As I told everybody a few months ago when I was still in the race, I said if Donald Trump is our nominee, it’s going to divide the party and fracture the conservative movement, and that’s what’s happening. We’ll see if it can come back together."
Rubio, who declared on Facebook that he wasn’t interested in being Trump’s running mate, said he would have more to say Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders plan to meet with Trump on Thursday, the same day he is scheduled to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has withheld his endorsement from the presumptive nominee. The meeting will be a high-profile effort to forge an alliance going into the general election campaign.
Already, a few senators staked out opposite positions on Trump. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has abandoned his party’s standard-bearer, saying he will focus on congressional races. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Senate Republican, urged the party to come together and go to the party’s convention to back him.
But many are in sort of a no-man’s land, halfheartedly supporting Trump but not committing to a trip to the convention in Cleveland -- and seeming to avoid even saying the name "Donald Trump," instead referring to the talking point that they always planned to "support the party’s nominee."
Roy Blunt of Missouri is so sick of answering questions about Trump that he told reporters Monday he’s considering a moratorium on them in the Capitol.
‘Grateful’ for Ryan
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said he is "grateful" that Ryan withheld his support from Trump in an effort to persuade the candidate to change his tune, or at least his tone.
"Both of us have said we want to be there, we want to support our nominee, but as long as he takes some of these positions it makes it very difficult," Flake said. "It’ll be telling. In a primary you can double down on your tough, hard-core positions and just drive up the vote a bit. But in the general you can’t do that. It just doesn’t happen. You’re not going to pick up independents. You’re not going to all of a sudden find Hispanics coming to you by doubling down on deporting 11 million illegals, or on the wall. So we’ll see."
Hatch, meanwhile, said party leaders have an "obligation" to back the party’s nominee, and sounded hopeful that Ryan would eventually jump on board, dismissing the Trump-Ryan dust-up.
"They’ll get over that," he predicted, saying he hopes Ryan and other leaders go to the convention.
"I think true Republicans ought to support the Republican candidate," Hatch said. "He went through the process and he’s winning it fair and square. Some of our great former leaders should be there no matter what happens." The two living Republican presidents -- George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush -- haven’t backed Trump and are planning to skip the convention.
Hatch said Trump deserves credit for winning the nomination and, while he may not need Washington Republicans’ support, it would help.
But only up to a point, noting Trump’s outsider appeal.
"He did it not kissing anybody’s behind, which I think is why so many people are supportive of him. They are sick of what’s going on around here. And to be honest with you, I am too."
Hatch said he doesn’t want Democrat Hillary Clinton making the next three or four Supreme Court picks, which he said was the most important issue in the presidential race.
Hatch does have some advice for Trump: "Cool it" with the personal attacks.
Others, of course are on team #NeverTrump, with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse hoping to draft a third party candidate.
And Graham, for his part, repeated he just can’t go for Trump.
"The bottom line is I just can’t go where Mr. Trump would take the party or the country," he said.
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.