McConnell pledges to support Trump
© Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord's lawyer: Hearing doesn't appear to be designed for 'fair', 'respectful' treatment GOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week Press: Judge Kavanaugh must withdraw MORE (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday night that he will back Donald Trump as the Republican Party's presumptive nominee, declaring he can stop “a third term of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge denies bid to move lawsuit over Trump national monument rollbacks to Utah Tomi Lahren to former first lady: 'Sit down, Michelle' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins MORE.”

While McConnell had made his skepticism of Trump clear throughout the raucous primary, he also always said he would back the eventual nominee.

“I have committed to supporting the nominee chosen by Republican voters, and Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee, is now on the verge of clinching the nomination,” he said. 

But the GOP leader, who initially endorsed fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE for president and then stayed neutral when Paul dropped out, noted that Trump also has an obligation to reach out to Republicans he may have alienated during the campaign.

“As the presumptive nominee, he now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals,” he said.

The biggest goal, in McConnell’s eyes, is to defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2016 pollsters erred by not weighing education on state level, says political analyst Could President Trump's talk of a 'red wave' cause his supporters to stay home in midterms? Dem group targets Trump in M voter registration campaign: report MORE, the likely Democratic nominee, and prevent what is largely expected to be a continuation of many of President Obama’s policies if she takes the Oval Office. 

Behind closed doors, McConnell has advised GOP colleagues facing tough reelections to run their own races and not hesitate to distance themselves from the nominee if it helps their chances.  

In December, McConnell criticized Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from entering the United States as “inconsistent with American values.” 

He admonished the front-runner earlier this year, urging him to condemn violence at his rallies after protesters were assaulted.  

He told Trump during a phone call in March "that I thought it would be a good idea for him no matter who starts these violent episodes to condemn it." 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors Jordan wants Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee Kamala Harris calls for Senate to protect Mueller probe as Rosenstein faces potential dismissal MORE (R-Wis.) has alluded to his own concerns, urging Republicans to rally around an "inclusive" agenda.

"If we try to play our own version of identity politics and try to fuel ourselves based on darker emotions, that's not productive," he told The New York Times late last year.  

McConnell hinted last year that he would have preferred a candidate viewed as more electable than Trump or Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump changes mean only wealthy immigrants may apply, says critic The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Viral video shows O’Rourke air-drumming to the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ after Cruz debate MORE (R-Texas), who amassed the second most number of delegates before dropping out of the race Tuesday.

“Unless the nominee for president can carry purple states, he’s not going to get elected,” he told reporters at the end of last year. 

A CNN/ORC poll conducted nationwide at the end of April shows Clinton with a 13-point lead over Trump. The same survey gives Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who dropped out of the race Wednesday, a 7-point lead on Clinton.

Many Republicans are skeptical of Trump’s odds for victory.

“I think the chances of Donald Trump winning the election are the chances of the New York Yankees, and I’m wording this correctly, winning the Super Bowl,” said Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, an influential conservative activist who will not back Trump.

Already Trump has started to tack to the center in anticipation of the general election. He told CNN on Wednesday that he would consider increasing the minimum wage, a proposal Republicans have panned generally as likely to cost jobs.

“I'm looking at that. I'm very different from most Republicans,” he said.