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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Obama.”

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 Paul 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 Clinton, 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 Ryan (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 Cruz (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.  

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rand Paul Ted Cruz
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