Juan Williams: Congressional GOP in panic over Trump, Cruz

As all political eyes turn to the Iowa caucuses tonight, Donald Trump leads the race for the GOP nomination. He tops polls in Iowa and nationally. 

So how can it be that the billionaire real estate mogul does not have a single endorsement from a Republican Senator or Congressman — even among the most hard-line conservatives?

{mosads}This remains a startling fact, even as establishment party leaders have made it clear that they prefer Trump to a notoriously unpopular current member of the Senate, Ted Cruz (R- Texas).

Amazingly, the most pointed criticism of Trump in the run-up to the caucuses has come from Tea Party members of Congress, who advertise themselves as Trump-like on the issues, from their push for a wall at the southern border to their opposition to President Obama’s trade deals and nuclear accord with Iran. 

“I love a lot of the things that Donald Trump is saying,” said Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tea Party firebrand who — along with 17 other House Republicans — has put his name behind Cruz.

“But then you worry since [Trump] is a deal-maker and he knows how to win, is he doing what he needs to do to win now, and then going to turn around and go back to the principles he stood on for nearly all of his life in the general election?” said Gohmert, speaking on Newsmax TV’s “The Steve Malzberg Show.” “And then evangelicals have nowhere else to go at that point.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), another Cruz-supporting hardliner, has suggested that anyone endorsing Trump is guilty of ‘pay for play’ politics, embracing Trump for money, fame or out of fear of retribution. 

“One of them is money…” King told Politico, regarding the possible motivations of those backing the business mogul. “It might be fame, it might be the mystique of the Trump machine, it might be people are afraid of retribution and it might be people that are looking for opportunities down the line. And it might be any combination of those things and others that I haven’t said.”

Several conservative talk radio hosts are also sounding the anti-Trump sirens. Glenn Beck endorsed Cruz last week, blasting Trump as a “dangerous man” and a “bully.” Beck and several other leading conservatives took to the pages of the conservative National Review magazine recently to urge GOP primary voters to reject Trump. 

The closest Trump has come to an endorsement from any voice with ties to Congress is in the form of people running from Cruz.

Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the GOP’s 1996 presidential nominee, told the New York Times he’d back Trump if Cruz were the only other choice. “Nobody likes him,” Dole said of Cruz. Dole praised Trump, saying he could “probably work with Congress, because…he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker.” 

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has compared Trump’s appeal to that of Andrew Jackson because the “elites disliked” the early 19th century president who, like Trump, “represented farmer-frontier-worker rebellion against the eastern establishment.” Gingrich predicted to The Washington Post that Trump could become a “big asset” to the party and has the capacity to “shatter traditional” ways of doing business in Congress.

Similarly, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he has “come around a little bit” on Trump. And why is that? Well, Hatch prefers Trump to Cruz.

Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a leading moderate Republican who co-chairs the Tuesday Group moderates in the House, signaled last week he is also warming to Trump because he is not Cruz.

“Ted Cruz is a rigid ideologue,” Dent told the New York Times. “Donald Trump is ideologically scattered and malleable. In my view, a more rigid ideology would have a much harder time assembling a winning general election coalition than the less doctrinaire candidate.”

The real reason for all the anxiety among Republicans about Trump and Cruz is the fear that either man could drag down the party in Congress.

With Trump or Cruz at the top of the GOP slate in November, the Democrats like their chances of taking back the House and Senate. 

Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released a memo outlining how they will target 13 vulnerable incumbent Republican congressmen by linking them to Trump’s extreme policies. 

“Regardless of the ultimate Republican nominee, Trump and Cruz have hijacked the Republican narrative and driven the conversation to a place that is bad news for House Republicans in a presidential year,” a DCCC spokeswoman recently told reporters. 

The Democrats need to win 30 House seats to retake the majority. This seems unlikely given the landscape of gerrymandered districts, which favors Republicans. But with a polarizing figure like Trump or Cruz as the GOP’s presidential nominee, it could happen. Democrats won 31 House seats a decade ago and made Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the Speaker of the House.

Democrats have a much better chance of taking back the Senate. They need only to flip five seats currently held by Republicans. Of the 24 seats the GOP will be defending, seven of them are in states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012 — Illinois, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The incumbent Republican senators in those states would have an uphill battle to re-election even without having to explain their relationship to Trump or Cruz. 

By the GOP convention, the question will not be about endorsements. It will be about how many Congressional Republicans openly reject Trump or Cruz, if either man is the nominee.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2016 presidential election Donald Trump Republican Party Ted Cruz

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