Taking a stance on Trump

Taking a stance on Trump
© Getty Images

Vulnerable Senate Republicans are adjusting their stances on supporting Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE as he gets closer to officially securing the presidential nomination and their own general election campaigns gear up for the fall.

One has reneged on his endorsement. Some have carefully distinguished between supporting and endorsing him. And others have stayed away from the presumptive nominee when he has visited their states.


Trump’s recent inflammatory comments and overall temperament have caused some of the latest challenges for these senators as they grapple with their support of him, which has provided political fodder for Democrats.

“Democrats would love to have footage to put in their ads of Donald Trump and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanNot a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate MORE yucking it up together onstage or Pat Toomey and Trump,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said of the Ohio and Pennsylvania senators battling to keep their jobs.

“If Toomey and Portman aren’t comfortable with that sort of image being out there, then they have to stay away,” he said. “It’s hard to avoid the nationalization of these races.”

Illinois Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkLiberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Biden campaign releases video to explain 'what really happened in Ukraine' MORE, considered the most vulnerable Republican senator this cycle, has gone the furthest of any incumbent up for reelection and revoked his support for Trump.

Kirk had previously said he’d support the eventual nominee, but after Trump’s remarks about a federal judge’s Hispanic heritage, the senator rescinded his support and called the remarks “dead wrong” and “un-American.”

He even bragged in a video ad seeking to frame him as a moderate that he “bucked his party to say Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief.”

A Kirk official told CNN that the candidate’s decision to back away from Trump has sparked enthusiasm among donors and volunteers.

But Democrats have tried to capitalize on Kirk’s reversal. American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super-PAC, launched an ad showing clips of the senator’s past support for the real estate mogul.

Kirk faces Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) in a state where President Obama won by large margins in 2008 and 2012. Illinois is viewed as safe Democratic territory in presidential contests.

Other vulnerable senators have given complicated explanations about where they stand regarding Trump.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe MORE (R-Wis.), who faces a tough rematch against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, explained that supporting the likely nominee — which he said he does — doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing him.

“To me, ‘endorsement’ is a big embrace. It basically shows that I pretty well agree with an individual on almost everything. That’s not necessarily going to be the case with our nominee,” he told CNN recently.

“I’ll certainly be an independent voice. Where I disagree with a particular nominee, I’ll voice it. Whether it’s Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' What Trump got wrong by pushing coal Trump is fighting the wrong war MORE, Donald Trump or somebody else, I’ll voice those disagreements.”

Johnson also condemned Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel. But just before that condemnation,
Feingold’s campaign chided Johnson for not speaking out sooner.

Johnson’s reasoning about endorsements is similar to what Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line Bottom line Bottom Line MORE (R-N.H.) has said about Trump. Last month, Ayotte, who will likely face Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), said she plans to support the eventual nominee but won’t endorse anyone this election cycle.

Ahead of a Trump speech on trade in Manchester, N.H., last Thursday, Hassan knocked Ayotte in a press release, saying that the presidential candidate’s “return to New Hampshire is a reminder to all Granite Staters of Ayotte’s continued support for Trump and his dangerous, racist and sexist campaign.”

Ayotte, according to Manchester TV station WMUR, was among the state’s top officials who were “nowhere to be found” at Trump’s speech.

In Florida, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden MORE, a former Republican presidential candidate, said last week that his concern about a Trump presidency was one reason he reversed his pledge to retire and launched a reelection bid.

The Florida Republican backed the businessman in late May but said he won’t campaign with Trump in the Sunshine State.

“It’s not that I’m looking to undermine him, but I think the differences between us on key issues are so significant that I just don’t plan to campaign — I’ve got to run my own race,” Rubio told CNN last week.

Rubio is favored to win the Aug. 30 primary against wealthy businessman Carlos Beruff, a fervent Trump backer. But recent polls show a tight race between Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy, the -leading Democratic candidate and establishment favorite who is engaged in his own fierce primary battle with fellow Rep. Alan GraysonAlan Mark GraysonFlorida's Darren Soto fends off Dem challenge from Alan Grayson Live results: Arizona and Florida hold primaries The Hill's Morning Report: Frustration mounts as Republicans blow up tax message MORE.

Political observers say Republicans’ caution over Trump is a double-edged sword: They risk alienating his supporters but also need to shield themselves from him if his election chances look grim.

“It’s kind of hard because on one hand, there are going to be a lot of Trump voters in all those states. You don’t necessarily want to upset those folks,” Kondik said. “But you also want to be able to distinguish yourself from Trump if in fact Trump does poorly and run your own race.”

Terry Madonna, political science professor and polling director at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, noted that the number of voters willing to split tickets has dwindled over the past three decades and cautioned these senators about ignoring Trump’s supporters if they’re unable to get enough ticket-splitters.

As Trump kicks his general election campaign into high gear against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he’s starting to make campaign stops in battleground states that will be critical in determining who wins the White House and control of the Senate.

But like Ayotte on Thursday, other GOP incumbents have so far kept Trump at arm’s length and haven’t appeared alongside him at recent speeches and rallies.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Hillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review MORE (R-N.C.) said in May that he would campaign with Trump if he comes to North Carolina, but Burr was absent when Trump campaigned in Greensboro, N.C., on June 14.

Burr and Ayotte’s offices told Politico that the senators needed to be in Washington, D.C., at the time Trump visited their states earlier this month, while others mentioned there were scheduling conflicts.

Toomey didn’t attend Trump’s trade speech in Pittsburgh last Tuesday, but his Democratic opponent, Katie McGinty, still sought to tie him to Trump, arguing that the senator is “even more extreme than” Trump on trade and calling on Toomey to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal.

And many, including Ayotte, Toomey, Johnson and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE (R-Ariz.), aren’t attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and will instead stay home to campaign. Portman, of Ohio, will attend the convention in his home state, but it is not known whether he will speak there.

But not all Senate Republicans are running away from Trump.

In Colorado, one of the few Senate races where Republicans hope to flip the seat, a conservative darling won the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetExpanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Tom Cotton rips NY Times for Chinese scientist op-ed criticizing US coronavirus response MORE, who leads in funding in a state that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

But that hasn’t stopped Darryl Glenn, a county commissioner from the Colorado Springs area, from embracing Trump.

“I might not agree with everything he says,” Glenn said during a speech at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver over the weekend, “but I proudly stand with Donald Trump.”