By Jordain Carney - 12/19/15 09:14 AM EST
Senate Republicans are showing no signs of love for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: 'I never did business with Cuba' USA Today in scathing editorial: Trump is 'unfit for the presidency' Obama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact MORE.
The brash businessman has been leading the Republican presidential field for months but lawmakers seem unwilling to warm up to the divisive candidate.
"Imagine President Trump has been propelled into the White House with 300 electoral votes having won by his personality and his promise to get things done by acting unilaterally," he said. "He signs an order that turns the Peace Corps into stonemasons to build the southern wall."
Unlike Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who have been climbing in polls for the nomination, Trump has yet receive a single congressional backer, according to The Hill’s list of 2016 endorsements.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff Sessions3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears Trump, Clinton discuss counterterrorism with Egyptian president MORE (R-Ala.) — the closest thing Trump has to an ally in the Senate — remained adamant that his appearance at a campaign rally earlier this year wasn’t an endorsement of the businessman, and he's remained tightlipped about whether he will endorse any candidate during the primaries.
Trump’s continued dominance in the polls is also forcing Republican leaders to walk a fine line — suggesting Republican voters should pick someone who is seen as better able to win over moderates while not alienating Trump or his supporters by explicitly weighing in against him.
"I think the way you have a good election year is to nominate people who can win," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellObama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact Overnight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters when asked about how he deals with "tension" between Trump and Republican senators up for reelection in blue states.
"What we did in 2014, we didn't have any more Christine O'Donnells, Sharon Angles, Richard Mourdocks or Todd Akins,” naming were Tea Party-backed contenders who flamed out in general election contests in a prior cycle.
He added, while not specifically mentioning Trump, that "we'd like to have a nominee that can carry purple states."
Democrats, meanwhile, have tried to put GOP candidates in a corner over Trump, but potentially vulnerable senators have also been quick to try to create distance.
“I'm going to run an independent campaign,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told reporters when about the potential impact of Trump’s rhetoric. “I'm in a high-profile race and I'll be able to do that. It is Ohio."
While Republican lawmakers, including Portman, have been hesitant to completely disavow Trump as long as he’s still leading the field, his recent push to ban Muslims from entering the country has emboldened senators to increase their criticism of Trump.
Sasse’s so-called “thought experiment” wasn't the first time he’s taken a swing at the GOP front-runner.
In the wake of Trump’s comments, he suggested that a lack of leadership is pushing voters toward the businessman.
“A megalomaniac strongman steps forward, and he starts screaming about travel bans and deportation, and offering promises to keep all of us safe,” the conservative freshman senator said in a thinly veiled reference to Trump.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also captured headlines, first for suggesting that Trump’s comments were a new low that don’t “reflect serious thoughts” and then for visiting a mosque where he implied that other GOP lawmakers should help drown out Trump’s rhetoric.
“My hope and prayer today is that the isolated voices calling for division are overwhelmed by the chorus of voices ... calling for acceptance, for tolerance and inclusion,” he said during his visit.
The Arizona Republican is part of a growing number of senators who, while they are hesitant to directly say they wouldn’t support Trump as the nominee, have no problem admitting they don’t think he can win the nomination.
Asked about the potential for Trump to be the nominee, Flake quickly replied, “he’s not going to be the nominee.”
Portman and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) have also suggested that they don’t believe the current front-runner will end up on the ballot next November as the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, dismissed questions about a potential Trump nomination as pure speculation.
"I don't think I'm going to find myself in that situation,” she told The Hill. “I really don't think Donald Trump's going to be the nominee, so I am doing my best to promote Jeb.”