Can Trump unify GOP?
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Violence and protests at Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate committee moving forward with Russia hacking probe Trump must re-engage Africa to halt Chinese inroads Voter fraud allegations reignite squabble MORE’s campaign events are sparking new questions about whether the GOP front-runner can unify his party if he becomes its standard-bearer.

Trump has described himself as a “unifier” while arguing that he can attract new voters to the Republican Party who have been turned off by Washington.

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At the last GOP debate before key contests Tuesday in Florida and Ohio, he called on the party to rally around his cause, saying the GOP establishment should “embrace what’s happening.”

A day later, Trump was forced to cancel an event in Chicago after thousands of demonstrators turned up to protest the event. The cancelation had added significance coming one day after video surfaced of an African-American man being punched by a Trump supporter at a different rally in North Carolina.

On Saturday, one of the men chasing Trump, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioWebb: What matters now is policy McMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee Why the era of US global leadership is over MORE (R-Fla.), hedged when asked if he could support Trump if he wins the nomination. Rubio said he still “at this moment” intended to support the nominee, “but it’s getting harder every day,”

While Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzCruz shares 'proof' of basketball skills - with pic of Duke look-alike Cruz introduces bill letting states bar refugees Trump's America: Businessmen in, bureaucrats out MORE (R-Texas), the candidate running second to Trump in delegates, was more forceful in saying he would back whoever wins the GOP nomination, Rubio’s comments are reflective of the views of many GOP office-holders.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate up for reelection have sent clear signals that they believe Trump could hurt their chances, despite his repeated vows that he will broaden the party by winning over independents and blue-collar “Reagan Democrats."

GOP insiders have also been divided by Trump, with some pulling out all the stops to prevent him from getting the nomination.

“It may be that Donald Trump is the new face of the Republican Party — a party to which I will no longer belong, if that’s the case,” said Mac Stipanovich, a prominent Republican lawyer and lobbyist in Florida whose involvement with the party stretches back decades.

Not everyone feels that way. Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The Hill that he believed the party would rally behind Trump if he became the nominee.

“You’ve got Republicans who say, ‘I will never vote for him, I will vote for Hillary.’ That is just silly talk,” Steele complained. “If you are a party leader or a party official, you have got to be about keeping the GOP competitive, and the only way you are going to do that is to be on the same page as the nominee.”

Similar predictions of unity are coming from other major players in GOP fundraising.

Fred Malek, the finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association, told The Hill on Friday that “the majority of donors want to see a Republican victory. They might prefer somebody other than Trump, but if he gets the nomination, they will fall in line.”

Those who are optimistic about a detente between Trump and the GOP establishment take heart from the more temperate tone the businessman adopted in last week’s debate in Miami, as well as a broader shift in his rhetoric toward a general election footing.

Some see that shift as a recognition from Trump that his fiery tone during the primary won’t get the job done in November.

“The Trump campaign will have to grow into a very different animal than it is today,” said veteran Republican operative Phil Musser, who has previously worked as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney. “It will have to find ways to accommodate thinking, ideas, personalities and contributions from a wide range [of people] because in a closely divided country, you are going to need every vote.”

Musser added, however, that the process of building Republican unity is not a one-way street. 

“Every Republican politician has to make their own decision and their own choice,” he said. “But I think a core value is respecting the will of the voters. If the will of the voters is that Trump should be the nominee, that is a will that should be respected.”

Not everyone is so optimistic that the party will coalesce around Trump, whose insults have stung many a top GOP figure.

Asked if Trump could unify the party, David Woodard, a South Carolina GOP strategist and a political science professor at Clemson University, responded, “Oh, I don’t think he can. I can’t see any way that he can.”

Woodard views Trump’s claims that he can expand the party’s appeal with deep skepticism, drawing on a historic parallel from the other side of the partisan divide.

“I remember when George McGovern was going to get all those college students to vote for him,” he laughed. “And he got drowned. The same thing is going to happen here.”

McGovern, the liberal Democratic nominee in 1972, won just one state and the District of Columbia against incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon.

A number of influential conservative thinkers and Republican loyalists have also come out publicly to say they will never support Trump.

They include Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashA well-crafted budget amendment can succeed GOP lawmaker on Trump's Lewis tweets: 'Dude, just stop' House passes Mattis waiver, setting up quick confirmation MORE (Mich.) and Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), conservative heavyweight Glenn Beck, former RNC Chairman Mel Martinez and former Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.).

Stipanovich, a colorful figure who was a prominent player in the legal battle over Florida’s results in the 2000 presidential election, is not working for, or affiliated with, any presidential campaign this year. He initially wanted Jeb Bush to win and, with Bush out, is now hoping Marco Rubio will prevail. 

Were Rubio to eventually drop out as well, Stipanovich said he would support anyone who could stop Trump — “and if it gets to a point where there is nobody else, I would support a stump before I would support Trump.”

Jonathan Swan contributed.