Republican leaders in Washington worry that it will be tough to win congressional races in Pennsylvania and New Jersey if Donald Trump wins the GOP’s nomination.
However, most Republicans at the Capitol are not trying to put any distance between themselves and their party’s bombastic frontrunner.
There’s been a strange quietness, even uneasiness, at the Capitol these days. It crops up when reporters ask about the prospect of having Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.
“I’m not going to comment on it,” said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-South Jersey.
“I’m focusing on my race at this point,” said U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Delaware County.
“The primary election is coming up, and the people have to decide,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Bucks County. Fitzpatrick, who hasn’t endorsed any presidential candidate, said it’s not his place to weigh in on the contest.
“I think it’s important that members of Congress not get in front of their constituents, and that they listen to their constituents. This is a democracy, so democracy requires that the people will vote and have their voice heard,” he said.
However, plenty of his colleagues are taking sides. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, is backing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — the pick of establishment Republicans.
When asked if he worries about being on the same ticket as Trump, Toomey responded, “We’re not there yet. I’m behind Marco.”
Toomey then quickly went on his way and did not say whom he would support if Rubio were to exit the race.
Toomey’s not the only one trying to duck reporters these days. Vulnerable Republican incumbents are now using their staffers to block reporters from even asking them about sharing the ticket with Trump, while others just flat-out say “no comment” when asked about their party’s leading vote-getter.
Kyle Kondik, a campaign analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, predicted Toomey likely can’t win with Trump on the ticket.
“If the Democratic nominee wins Pennsylvania by what Obama won it by — which was I think five points — that would be pretty hard for Toomey to overcome,” Kondik said. “If Trump would lose Pennsylvania by more than that, or Cruz, then that puts Toomey in some pretty serious jeopardy.”
For most, a tough choice
Only five members of Congress have endorsed Trump, including U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, a Republican from northeastern Pennsylvania. He said his late backing of Trump became easy.
“He’s saying exactly what my constituents are thinking,” Marino said. “And people are fed up with these policymakers.”
Asked about Trump’s xenophobic, vulgar and sexist comments, Marino tried to distance himself from most of the headline-grabbing comments his candidate has made.
“You know, I don’t agree with him on everything. But the thing that I do agree with him on — he’s a businessman. He’s built a successful business. He’s created thousands upon thousands of jobs. He signs the front of paychecks,” Marino said. “He’s not politically correct.”
Lehigh Valley Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent said GOP voters have been given a bad choice.
“You have one candidate for president who is ideologically very rigid, that’s Ted Cruz. And one who is ideologically malleable, scattered and, seemingly immoral, that’s Donald Trump,” Dent said. “I’ve often felt that the more rigid ideology presents more significant down-ballot challenges than it does the more ideologically malleable candidate.”
Dent, who backs Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said Republicans still have time to figure out a strategy to maintain majorities in Congress if Trump wins the nomination.
“I haven’t thoroughly analyzed it, but I do have concerns. As of now, he’s not the nominee,” Dent said. “And should he become the nominee, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.”