From 'Hell No' to 'Tepid Yes,' Here’s Where Top Republicans Stand on Trump
Policy + Politics

From 'Hell No' to 'Tepid Yes,' Here’s Where Top Republicans Stand on Trump

© Gretchen Ertl / Reuters

A day after Donald Trump became the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee, elected GOP officials and elders must answer definitively whether they will support him in November.

Or whether they don’t.

Given the acidic tone of the Republican primary -- where Trump steamrolled 16 opponents with incendiary, often vulgar, personal attacks – perhaps it’s not surprising that what in the past has been a simple yes or no, black and white, answer, has yielded a gamut of responses.

Related: Trump’s Hard Truth for the GOP: Conservatism Doesn’t Matter

Based on some initial reactions, the embrace for the former reality TV star could become even more awkward before the Republican National Convention this summer in Cleveland depending on what the volatile billionaire says on the campaign trail.

While Hillary Clinton has yet to defeat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, she can happily sit back and cut ads like the one she released Wednesday where members of the GOP do all the talking for her.

Here’s what some Republicans are saying about Trump’s ascension:

The ‘Hell, No’ Caucus

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). If there were such a group on Capitol Hill, Sasse would be elected chair today. Late Wednesday, the conservative lawmaker posted a letter on Facebook calling for an “adult,” third-party presidential candidate.

"Why shouldn’t America draft an honest leader who will focus on 70 percent solutions for the next four years? You adult?" Sasse wrote.

Related: Fearing Trump, More Republicans Are Skipping the Convention

He also took to Twitter.

The Hill has put together a handy list of GOP officials and activists who make up the “Never Trump” ranks. Expect the list to expand quickly.

On The Fence

Joe Scarborough. The former Republican congressman and popular MSNBC host said Thursday that he wouldn’t back Trump unless the mogul softened his extreme views, especially on his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.

"I'm never gonna vote for a guy that is saying he's going to ban somebody just because of the god they worship," Scarborough said on “Morning Joe.”

"And I gotta say I was surprised and disappointed ... that yesterday, he stuck by the Muslim ban. That's a loser. It's a loser with the majority of Americans,” he added.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The five-term senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, has had a complicated relationship with Trump ever since the billionaire chastised McCain for being taken captive during the Vietnam War.

Related: Donald Trump Speaks With Forked Tongue on Immigration

Still, McCain, who is up for re-election this year, had seemingly gotten onboard with the idea of Trump as the nominee. However, audio obtained by Politico indicates that the Senate Armed Services chair is worried about sharing the same ticket as Trump.

“If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life,” McCain said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). Another incumbent in a tough re-election race, Ayotte signaled she would “support” the mogul but not “endorse” him, a spokesperson told WMUR on Wednesday.

That kind of threading the needle might happen a lot more before Election Day as Republicans fight to maintain control of the Senate.


South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. The popular governor told the Charleston Post and Courier that she supported Trump for president. “I have great respect for the will of the people, and as I have always said, I will support the Republican nominee for president.”

Related: Can’t Vote for Trump or Clinton? Here Are Some Third Party Options

Those words likely left many people slack-jawed, especially since Haley delivered a GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address that took direct aim at Trump’s controversial stances on immigration.

Haley also first endorsed Sens. Marco Rubio (FL) and Ted Cruz (TX) during the primary before coming around to the developer.

Tepid at Best

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). At one time four members of the Senate Republican Caucus were running for the Oval Office, leading McConnell to steer clear of the primary.

That ended Wednesday night when he issued a rote, by-the-numbers endorsement of Trump.

“I have committed to supporting the nominee chosen by Republican voters, and Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee is now on the verge of clinching that nomination,” McConnell said in a statement. “As the presumptive nominee, he now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals.”

Mum’s the Word

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush intend to stay silent in the race for the Oval Office, the Texas Tribune reports.

The silence is a huge break from tradition for the elder Bush, who has backed his party’s nominee in the last five presidential elections.