House GOP hoping a ‘disciplined’ Trump can win

House GOP hoping a ‘disciplined’ Trump can win
© Getty Images

Republicans on Capitol Hill think Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE has a real shot of winning the White House this November — if his campaign can stick to being more disciplined.

GOP lawmakers returning to Washington this week expressed optimism that Trump can stay on message if he keeps listening to people recently elevated in his orbit, such as campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and running mate Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Students at school system Pence called 'forefront' of reopening now in quarantine Presidential debates demonstrate who has what it takes MORE, who are more experienced political hands.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think Trump’s going to win — if he listens to Kellyanne and Mike Pence,” Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) said. 

Republicans appear heartened that Trump has gotten though the past three weeks without making any major gaffes after he had slipped significantly in the polls in the wake of the boisterous July nominating convention in Cleveland. Following the GOP gathering, Trump enmeshed himself in new controversies — including a weekslong feud with the parents of a fallen Muslim Army captain — that sparked fear in GOP leaders, who worried their nominee had no intention of softening his tone as he shifted from the primary to the general election.

But after overhauling his campaign team — and adopting a more disciplined demeanor on the campaign trail — Trump has rebounded. 

A meeting with the president of Mexico last week was mostly well-received, bolstering his image as a statesman. And the continuous drip of emails
surrounding Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  MORE’s tenure atop the State Department — revealing close ties between State officials and leaders of the powerful Clinton family’s charitable foundation — have only helped boost Trump in the polls. 

“For month after month, Mr. Trump said some things — and whether what he said was distorted or not, there was always controversy, week in and week out, surrounding something he said,” Rep. Chris Collins said. 

“Well, now, for about three weeks, he has really stayed on message, he’s shown discipline, he’s looked presidential, he’s sounded presidential,” said the New York Republican, who was one of the first lawmakers to endorse Trump. 

Still, there are plenty of lingering concerns for Republicans surrounding the combative and unconventional standard-bearer. 

A pair of powerful GOP lawmakers — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (Tenn.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (Texas) — both expressed doubts Wednesday about Trump’s ability to serve as commander in chief.

“I’ve got concerns about what both candidates have said,” Thornberry, who has not endorsed Trump and skipped the Republican National Convention, told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson. “I’m concerned about the name calling throughout the campaign and that there are serious substantive issues that [need clarifying.]”

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, an uncomfortable Corker dodged the question on Trump’s competence altogether.

“I have a job to do here, and it’s not to be the referee on a presidential campaign,” he said in a testy exchange with Mika Brzezinski.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and one of Trump’s sharpest Republican critics, also weighed in Wednesday, saying his objections remain despite Trump’s recent rebound.

“I’ve never said I was a Never Trump guy. I did say, though, that he was crossing a lot of red lines. And I think that still holds true,” Kinzinger told MSNBC. 

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who penned a New York Times op-ed last month calling on the billionaire businessman to release his tax returns, expressed concern about Trump’s recent waffling on immigration. 

Trump had suggested a “softening” in recent weeks of his hawkish immigration policies that vaulted him to the GOP nomination — only to double down on his hard-line approach after meeting with the Mexican president.

“I could come up with literally 50 different yins and yangs,” Sanford told The Hill. “Given the amount of caustic showmanship that we’ve experienced in this primary and now general election process, one has to wonder what exactly will Donald Trump look like.”

At the same time, Sanford acknowledged that “he’s certainly been more measured inasmuch as Trump can be measured.”

A CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday found that Trump has erased the clear advantage Clinton built following the Democratic National Convention and now leads the Democratic nominee by a 2-point margin.

Both campaigns shifted this week to the topic of national security — a field in which Clinton, a former secretary of State, has more experience, although Trump has edged her out in recent polls. 

A survey released Tuesday by UPI/CVoter found that 49 percent of voters think Trump is better suited to confront terrorism, versus just 27 percent favoring Clinton. 

If Trump even just keeps the race close, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) suggested, that could help Republicans maintain seats in Congress.

“If it stays close, that clearly helps us — both the Senate and the House — hang onto our majorities,” Cole said.

Despite some praise for Trump’s change in demeanor over the past few weeks, not all Republicans are confident it’ll be enough to erase the damage.

When asked if he thought Trump could win in November, Sanford replied thoughtfully: “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“His support base is incredibly energized, really not like any other support base I’ve ever seen. [And] the mood in the country is desperate for change. You combine those two things, and anything can happen,” Sanford said. 

Scott Wong contributed to this report, which was updated at 8:11 a.m.