By Alexander Bolton - 03/30/16 06:00 AM EDT
Grassroots Republicans are growing frustrated with their Washington Beltway counterparts, who they think are giving up the fight for the White House.
They see talk of diverting resources from the presidential fight and distancing House and Senate candidates from Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence offers Cruz 'heartfelt thanks' for Trump endorsement Trump: We are proud of African-American history museum Kim Kardashian confirms: 'I stand with Hillary' MORE or Ted CruzTed CruzPence offers Cruz 'heartfelt thanks' for Trump endorsement Cruz: Trump hasn't apologized for personal insults Cruz says he forgives Trump for attacks on family MORE as a surrender.
Talk that Trump and Cruz can’t beat Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: We are proud of African-American history museum Kim Kardashian confirms: 'I stand with Hillary' No, Doctor: Hillary's eyes are just Hillary's eyes MORE represents “a pretty dangerous line of thinking,” said Chip Saltsman, who served as a senior adviser to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s recent presidential campaign.
Despite a chaotic and divisive presidential race, these Republicans say the GOP can unify and defeat Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, who they believe is a deeply flawed candidate.
Talk of cutting potential losses before the general election has even begun is “damn foolishness,” said Phillips, who is backing Cruz.
“If anybody starts seriously talking about giving up the fight for the White House, the grass roots will give up on them,” he added.
The prospect of a brokered convention has depressed many in the GOP.
A nasty primary fight filled with schoolyard taunts had already soured some Republicans on their chances of winning the White House, particularly when it comes to rhetoric and policy positions that many believe could make it more di fficult for the party to win over female, Hispanic and black voters.
A fight at the convention could make it even more difficult for the party to unite in the fall. If Trump, the front-runner for the nomination, goes into the convention with the most delegates but leaves it without the nomination, many believe his supporters will not back the GOP nominee. And if Trump is the nominee, Republicans in the “Never Trump” movement will find it difficult to support him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto GOP chairman lobbies against overriding Obama on 9/11 bill Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanSunday shows preview: Both sides gear up for debate FULL SPEECH: Obama celebrates African American museum opening Trump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto MORE (R-Wis.) have already begun distancing themselves from Trump.
Ryan gave a speech last week criticizing the rhetoric in the GOP race. He has previously criticized Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
McConnell, for his part, reassured nervous colleagues at a recent meeting that party resources can be focused on congressional races in the same way they were in 1996, when it became apparent that Bob Dole, the party’s nominee, wouldn’t beat Bill ClintonBill ClintonGennifer Flowers says she will attend debate Trump threatens to bring Gennifer Flowers to debate Michelle Obama, Biden, Bill Clinton to hit post-debate campaign trail MORE, according to a GOP senator who attended.
Neither Ryan nor McConnell have offered any signal that they are giving up on the race for the White House. Still, a number of Republicans think the two leaders are acting wisely in creating some distance for their members.
“We have two leading candidates for president who will almost surely will drag the ticket down,” said Vin Weber, referring to Trump and Cruz.
Weber served as a senior strategist to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent presidential campaign and to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“We have to think about how we actually preserve the congressional majorities, which I think we can do,” Weber said.
Such talk is blasphemy to other Republicans.
“That kind of talk creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that will enable their very demise. They aren’t really as interested in defeating Democrats as they are in saving their own hides,” said Steve Deace, a conservative radio host based in Iowa who backs Cruz.
Saltsman, who has not committed support to any candidate, acknowledged that Trump, who has not held public office, is an unusual candidate. But he argues Trump could defeat Clinton.
“Is it going to be different from other cycles before if Donald Trump’s the nominee? Yeah, it’s going to be different. Is it going to be worse? Not necessarily,” he said.
Saltsman argues that Trump will turn out blue-collar voters in November who might not otherwise show up to the polls. And while his high unfavorable ratings may put some Republican-held seats in jeopardy, his strong appeal to working-class whites could also bring more Democratic seats into play.
“What I would say to my friends in Washington is embrace it. Embrace the wave, and see what happens,” he added. “We get in trouble when we decide that we’re smarter than the voters and we try to manipulate the voters’ will.”
Republicans also cite polling that gives Cruz and fellow Republican presidential candidate John Kasich some hope of defeating Clinton.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll from mid-March showed Cruz and Kasich beating Clinton in the battleground of Ohio.
The same survey, however, showed her beating Cruz by 5 points in Florida, also a significant battleground state.
Trump generally fares worse in head-to-head polls against Clinton than the other remaining candidates for the nomination. He trailed her by 6 points in Ohio in an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll from mid-March and by 8 points in Florida.
Still, Republicans who are bullish about winning the presidency point to Clinton’s high negatives and her struggles to unify the Democratic base.
The former first lady’s unfavorable rating is nearly 15 points higher than her favorable rating, according to an average of recent polls compiled by The Huffington Post, a liberal-leaning news site.
“If you have a candidate like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump with a very strong base of support, it’s a good starting block, especially against another candidate with high negatives that doesn’t have that obvious base of support. Hillary is popular inside the Beltway, but outside there’s a lot of distrust of her as an individual,” said Taylor Budowich, executive director of Tea Party Express, which hasn’t endorsed in the GOP primary.
“I’m not of the cut-and-run mindset because I see the candidates we have on the Republican side as formidable if they go up against someone like Hillary Clinton,” he added. “The squeamishness is mostly with the consultant class.”
To some, it’s preposterous talk of looking ahead to 2020, when Clinton could be a vulnerable incumbent ready to be knocked out.
“So much of the grass roots’ frustration that has manifested itself this cycle is because we as a party haven’t been able to achieve the results that the grass roots were expecting. In order to really achieve those results, you have to have the House, the Senate and the White House,” said Steve Munisteri, the former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, who recently advised Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales Five tips from Trump's fallen rivals on how to debate him MORE’s (R-Ky.) presidential campaign.
“It’s no longer enough to your small donors, Tea Party groups and grassroots conservatives to just deliver the House and the Senate to them,” he added.