GOP struggles with supporting Blankenship in West Virginia

GOP struggles with supporting Blankenship in West Virginia
© Getty

Senate Republicans are grappling with what support, if any, they should give ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship if the controversial candidate wins Tuesday's primary in West Virginia.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSupreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters this week that Republican leadership is actively discussing the "various scenarios" that could be sparked by a Blankenship victory on Tuesday night.

"Uh, don't know. Let's just hope and pray that that doesn't happen," the No. 3 GOP senator said after a closed-door leadership meeting. "It wouldn't be good."


Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNetflix distances from author's comments about Muslim Uyghurs but defends project Overnight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami MORE (R-N.C.), the vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said there would be a "discussion" if Blankenship wins but that he will not support him.

"I'm sure that will be a discussion. I personally wouldn't. You know I'm involved with the NRSC but I just don't see a scenario where that's a positive projection of the Republican brand," he said, asked by The Hill about the NRSC's thinking.

Blankenship, who was released from prison less than a year ago, has sparked panic among national Republicans who believe his victory will blow their chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump taps Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, setting up confirmation sprint Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink MORE (W.Va.).

And the candidate appears to have momentum heading into Tuesday, with multiple internal polls showing him leading rivals state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE (R-W.Va.).

GOP leadership in Congress has publicly kept the race at arm's length, worried that any attempts to influence who wins the Republican primary could backfire. But Blankenship, who is running as an anti-establishment candidate, has blasted GOP leadership in ads.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley warns Schumer to steer clear of Catholic-based criticisms of Barrett Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (R-Ky.) declined to say on Tuesday if Blankenship's ads saying the GOP leader helped create jobs for "China people" and got money from his "China family" were racist.

"Well, we're going to find out what happens in West Virginia tonight, and I may have more to say about that tomorrow," McConnell told reporters when asked if Blankenship's ads are "racist."

McConnell's wife, Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoChick-fil-A drops fight for San Antonio airport location Overnight Defense: US marks 19th anniversary of 9/11 attacks | Trump awards Medal of Honor to Army Ranger for hostage rescue mission | Bahrain, Israel normalizing diplomatic ties Trump marks 9/11 with moment of silence on Air Force One, remarks in PA MORE, was born in Taiwan. Her family emigrated from China to the United States and founded an international shipping company.

Pressed on Tuesday on whether he and the NRSC would support Blankenship, McConnell similarly demurred, saying he would wait to see who won the GOP primary.

The NRSC didn't take a side in the primary and hasn't said what, if any, help it will offer Blankenship if he wins.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBreaking the Chinese space addiction Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden MORE (R-Colo.) sidestepped when asked if the Senate GOP campaign arm would support Blankenship, saying he's "confident [West Virginian voters will] elect somebody who can win in November."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE has compared Blankenship to former controversial Alabama Senate candidate Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreDoug Jones says he will not support Supreme Court nominee before election Roy Moore sues Alabama over COVID-19 restrictions Vulnerable Senate Democrat urges unity: 'Not about what side of the aisle we're on' MORE. The NRSC cut ties with him when Moore was accused of pursuing relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Moore won the primary but lost the general election.

In addition to potentially cutting ties with Blankenship, the NRSC could take a less drastic step and passively support him by simply not speaking negatively about his candidacy.

Tillis isn't the only GOP senator who is keeping Blankenship at arms length.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE (R-Okla.) said he would have a "hard time" supporting him and that he's "not my favorite person."

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Second GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GOP senator to quarantine after coronavirus exposure MORE (R) noted that she voted in the primary on Friday but refused to say who she voted for.

"I had a written record. And luckily nobody else could see it but me," she told reporters. Asked if Blankenship as the nominee would be "problematic," she added: "You know, let's just see what happens."

But Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHow fast population growth made Arizona a swing state Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Republican former Michigan governor says he's voting for Biden MORE (R-Ariz.), who is retiring after 2018, urged the party not to support Blankenship, arguing his behavior shouldn't be "normalized."

"That's kind of a Faustian bargain in my view. ... I feel the same way [about him] as I did about Roy Moore," he said. "You just don't go there, you just don't."