Posted by Curt on 30 June, 2016 at 9:18 am. 11 comments already!


Burgess Everett & Seung Min Kim:

Over the past several weeks, Donald Trump has managed to deliver several scripted speeches that stayed on message. He’s hired top staffers to bulk up his skeletal campaign. And he’s kick-started a fundraising operation, while focusing most of his rhetorical fire on Hillary Clinton.

He can do all that and more, but it still won’t be enough to win Mike Lee’s support.

“There’s nothing about him running a more traditional campaign that makes me more comfortable because that’s not what I’m advocating. What I’m advocating is a very nontraditional campaign, one that would focus on what I think is the real problem,” the Utah senator said in an interview this week, referring to the erosion of separation of powers and federalism of the United States.

Lee, along with a crew of mostly younger Senate Republicans not facing competitive reelection races, seems increasingly inclined to join Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s “never Trump” caucus, given how much Trump diverges from Lee’s ideal vision of the party’s nominee. With Utah turning against the GOP’s presumptive nominee, and many of Trump’s policy proposals violating Lee’s rock-ribbed conservative core, he’s feeling little pressure to ever get on board the Trump train.

While Republican leaders are cautiously encouraged by Trump’s more predictable campaigning style of late, lawmakers who have long been skeptical of his campaign are unmoved by his tactical changes. Some Republican senators still aren’t even acknowledging that he has their party’s nomination locked up.

“Whoever’s our candidate, I’m going to support our candidate,” said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a 48-year-old conservative. “I’ll feel better when I get a list of policies and I see who the vice president is.”

“I’m still evaluating,” said moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins, as Trump stumped in her home state on Wednesday.

It’s not just die-hard conservatives or centrists: Republicans from across the spectrum remain unconvinced by Trump’s course adjustments. For many rank-and-file members, whatever improvements Trump manages haven’t made up for a year of headline-grabbing gaffes, from his initial call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. to remarks disparaging an American judge of Mexican descent.
“Today, I’m opposed to his campaign,” said Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. “He did a lot of damage. It’s very difficult for him, as far as I’m concerned, to recover from his previous comments. I’ll give him a chance, but at this point, I have no intentions of voting for him.”

Heller may be looking beyond 2016 to 2018, when he is up for reelection in a state that will be one of the few pickup opportunities for Democrats. Supporting Trump now offers little to no upside to him; but for Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), it’s a must. Heck is running for the Senate this year — and he cannot win without Trump supporters backing him.

Still, most senators up for reelection are hedging their bets in case Trump’s support nosedives — and Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is outright opposed to Trump’s candidacy. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who has left the door open to opposing Trump, declined twice on Wednesday to discuss Trump’s new campaigning style and said he wasn’t focused on Trump — even though Trump gave a speech in Pennsylvania on Tuesday trashing new trade deals.

Even senators who’ve announced some level of support for Trump, such as Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Florida’s Marco Rubio, have gone to great lengths to emphasize their differences with him, not similarities.

“It’s clear they’ve increasingly professionalized their operation and they’re gearing toward the sort of things you need to do mechanically to be successful in a general election,” Rubio said. “I’ve always viewed my race as separate and distinct. I’m a well-known political entity in Florida. People know my identity, what I stand for. They know what our differences are.”

The less Trump makes inflammatory headlines, the fewer questions senators up for reelection have to face, which is part of what has made GOP leaders slightly more upbeat. But despite the dominant effect that the top of the ticket is likely to have on Senate races, GOP strategists insist that the half-dozen incumbent senators in tough reelection races will win or lose independent of Trump.

“It’ll be helpful to him. But our candidates are going to win on their own,” said Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, chairman of the GOP’s campaign arm. “I’m not seeing much of a coattail or a reverse coattail effect at the top of the ticket.”

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