Conservatives on Capitol Hill say Donald TrumpDonald TrumpManafort-linked accounts on Cyprus probed: report Republican failure Trump's environmental order jeopardizes our national security MORE has tapped into the right’s growing frustration with Washington, propelling him to the front of the GOP’s 2016 presidential pack.
But no one’s rushing to endorse him.
Trump’s bombastic straight talk on the campaign trail — and his rapid ascent in the polls — has made the billionaire business mogul and reality TV star almost impossible to ignore. Trump’s name was brought up at a conservative forum at the Capitol on Wednesday without any prompting from reporters.
“I think you see, with Donald Trump’s success, the American people’s frustration with Congress. It’s as much about Congress as it is the illegal immigration,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a Paul supporter, said at a “Conversations with Conservatives” event that was moderated by the Heritage Foundation.
“Our constituents are over-the-top frustrated with us,” added Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a co-founder of the new conservative Freedom Caucus who hasn’t picked a candidate yet. “Whether you agree with Mr. Trump or not, whether you like his style or not, he’s definitely tapped into a pent-up demand, a frustration.”
Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Cynthia LummisCynthia LummisTrump's Interior candidates would play Russian roulette with West Trump eyes House members for Cabinet jobs Trump aide dodges questions about business dealings MORE (R-Wyo.), announced Wednesday she also was joining Team Rand. But she conceded that Trump certainly is “striking a chord and hitting a nerve” among Republican voters.
“Republicans kept saying if we get the House things will be different, and if we get the Senate things will be different. And they’re not different,” Lummis told The Hill. “The agenda that is being offered by Republican leadership is the same old big business, big unions government agenda.”
For the second-straight week, polls showed Trump leading the crowded GOP presidential field. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll said 17 percent of GOP voters favored Trump, while 14 percent backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in third with 8 percent.
Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration — he suggested most Mexican immigrants were “rapists” and criminals — is causing heartburn for a party that's desperately trying to make inroads with Latino voters.
But his outsider status and broader message about D.C. dysfunction is resonating with GOP primary voters, Republicans acknowledged.
“I think he’s touched a desire of a lot of people for straight talk and dealing with difficult issues that a lot of people have not been willing to address,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), who has not endorsed a candidate yet. “I don’t know if his solutions are correct, but I think it’s been refreshing for people to have somebody speak their mind openly.”
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), the Tea Party darling who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor last year, is perhaps closer to Trump than most other GOP lawmakers. The hotel and golf course magnate recently flew to Brat’s district and hosted a fundraiser for him.
“He’s talking about jobs, and negotiating harder deals with China and why is the U.S. getting rolled with Russia and the Iran deal,” said Brat, who also is undecided about the 2016 race. “The average person isn’t hearing any good answers from anyone up here so he’s giving them at least some leadership stances saying, ‘Hey, I want to take these things on.’”
Still, higher poll numbers haven’t translated into any big-name GOP endorsements for Trump. Just like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) on the left, it doesn’t appear a single Republican in Congress is backing Trump.
Some congressional Republicans think he’ll quickly flame out, similar to the rapid rise and fall of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and many others during the 2012 race. Other Republicans are wary of some of Trump’s past positions — he’s previously defended abortion, praised Hillary and Bill Clinton and endorsed establishment favorite John McCain for president in 2008.
When it comes to “content, I don’t know he is a long-term viable candidate,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a Baptist minister who said he favors Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Walker, who is of no relation. “But the people who identify with [Trump] just bring an energy.”
Everywhere he goes, Trump attracts big crowds and a swarm of reporters and TV cameras. A Trump anti-immigration rally in Arizona needed to be moved to a larger venue, and even then hundreds were reportedly turned away from the Phoenix Convention Center due to space constraints.
Conservative Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), another Freedom Caucus co-founder, said it’s undeniable Trump has “tapped into some kind of sentiment.” But Salmon said he has no plans to endorse in the 2016 primary, waiting to see how the GOP field shakes out.
“I think weighing in on the primaries is something I’ve regretted more than I’ve appreciated in the past,” Salmon said. “It seems to be nothing but a millstone around your neck.
“If Capitol Hill were the people that were deciding who the next president will be, it might mean something,” the Arizona lawmaker continued. “I think right now, America is kind of fed up with Capitol Hill and they want somebody who is an outsider, and there are plenty of guys and gals vying for that spot.”