Some area GOP lawmakers embrace Trump, others keep him at arm’s length

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U.S. Republican legislators from the Delaware Valley region are getting used to the idea of Donald Trump as their party's candidate for president. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warre

U.S. Republican legislators from the Delaware Valley region are getting used to the idea of Donald Trump as their party's candidate for president. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warre

It’s no secret that Donald Trump wasn’t the first choice — or even the second — of many Republicans to be the party’s standard bearer.

But now that the celebrity magnate is the GOP’s apparent nominee, most Republican lawmakers from the Delaware Valley region embracing him in their own way.

But that doesn’t mean ringing endorsements.

“What are the choices?” said retired U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Bucks County. “What are the choices?”

That represents the calculus of Fitzpatrick’s support for Trump. From what he can tell, the congressman said, Trump will nominate a better replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia than any of the Democrats will.

“I’m going to support the candidate that puts reasonable conservatives on the Supreme Court,” Fitzpatrick said. “The Supreme Court is 4-4 now, so that’s the most important issue to me.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan has withheld his support from Trump thus far, while a few other prominent conservatives are refusing to ever vote for Trump.

Lehigh Valley Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, for instance, called the Trump candidacy “worrisome.”

“Even those who support him have expressed concerns,” said Dent. “How many times have I heard one of my colleagues who say they endorsed Donald Trump say, ‘But I disagree with what he says on X, Y, Z.’ That’s a tough spot to be in.”

Dent, who said he can’t support Trump now — if ever — said many of Trump’s policy positions scare him on one level but, then again, he never knows what he’s getting.

“He changes positions pretty regularly from what I can tell,’ he said. “In that regard, he’s pretty malleable.”

And that rhetoric

Then there’s Trump’s tongue, which many Republicans wish they could tame.

While he’s been dismayed by some of the inflammatory rhetoric he’s heard from Trump, Congressman Leonard Lance of Central New Jersey said he’s not worried that backing Trump will make voters think they are cut from the same cloth.

“No one would confuse my personality with his or his personality with mine, and I hope moving forward he is respectful of the views of others,” said Lance.

The best thing about Trump is that he’s greatly expanded the GOP tent, said Lance, by attracting apathetic voters who have sat out the last few election cycles or who never voted before.

“I think he has brought many new voters into the process and I think he will continue to do that,” the congressman said.

And what about the GOP agenda? Trump has vehemently criticized NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement — and trade policy toward China, while most Republicans have backed those trade deals.

Trump doesn’t want to touch Medicare or Social Security, while many House Republicans have voted to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Even with the differences, South Jersey’s Tom MacArthur said — from foreign policy to the economy — Trump is much more closely aligned with the GOP than a Hillary Clinton administration would be.

“The things that we want to do here in Congress have a much better chance of going somewhere under a Republican president than under Clinton, so he’ll have my support,” MacArthur said.

The GOP convention in July is supposed to be a time to unify and celebrate the party, but this year — with Trump leading the charge — many Republicans waging tough re-election battles are planning to skip it. Like Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, MacArthur said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll join the party faithful in Cleveland.

“My focus is on my own race, it’s on my own district and on the issues that matter most to South Jersey,” said MacArthur.

Solidarity in Cleveland?

Lawmakers expected to Pennsylvania Congressmen Lou Barletta and Tom Marino endorsed Trump ahead of the state’s primary. Marino, who represents a sprawling, mostly rural district in central and northern Pennsylvania, said he’s not worried that Toomey and others in the party are keeping Trump at arm’s length.

“He may come around, maybe he won’t. He’s in a little different of a position — I’m in a very conservative district; he has the whole state to contend with,” Marino said of Toomey. “I think, eventually, most of the Republicans will come around.”

Democrats are offering a glimpse of their general election strategy by painting Republicans as being in lockstep with all the inflammatory comments Trump has made about everyone from women to Muslims. But Marino said that line of attack will not work.

“The establishment, they’re very afraid of Donald Trump, but they’re terrified of the American people who are voting for him,” Marino said. “He has the largest number of votes in a primary in the history of this country in the Republican Party. So people say he should change this or he should change that. Back in Pennsylvania, we say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'”

But many Republicans think Trump’s tone is broken. That internal party debate over how they want to be portrayed seems like it will continue brewing, until at least the convention July 18-21.

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