Donald Trump may be polling far ahead of the rest of the GOP presidential field, but there's one constituency that remains reluctant to support the insurgent candidate: Congress.
To date, not one member of Congress has formally endorsed the GOP front-runner. Perhaps that's part of Trump's charm for some voters. He's a Washington outsider — as much as a New York billionaire can be, at least — and voters have taken to his monkey-wrench style of politics. Then there's Congress. Even if members like to rail against the institution, this is the political system that brought them to power. As fiery as some conservatives are, there may be some recognition that some of the things Trump says could be, you know, like, damaging to the Republican brand.
Of course, if Trump keeps polling this well, Republicans will start to fall in line behind the billionaire. At least some of them will, anyway. (It's hard to imagine every Republican actually endorsing Trump if he becomes the nominee. It's entirely possible fewer congressional Republicans would endorse their party's nominee than ever before if that GOP-contender turns out to be Trump.)
But if Trump's support really is steadfast — if Frank Luntz's legs cease to quiver — members will endorse him. Here are a few prime targets:
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Sessions might have come closest last week when he donned one of Trump's suddenly famous "Make America Great Again" hats and introduced the billionaire to a supportive crowd in Mobile. Sessions is also credited with helping Trump write his immigration plan, which called for, among other things, deporting illegal immigrants, constructing a wall between the United States and Mexico and ending birthright citizenship. That sort of rhetoric appeals to immigration hardliners, particularly Sessions, but Trump does have a less conservative record on issues like abortion, taxes and health care.
Still, that Sessions basically drafted Trump's immigration plan should make him an easy target for an endorsement. And that plan will certainly attract some attention in Congress, especially from Republicans such as ...
Steve King, R-Iowa King, who could be a key endorsement in his state's first-in-the-nation caucus, certainly seemed to like what he saw from Trump's immigration plan. While many have figured King would endorse Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump's immigration positions and popularity could give the Iowa congressman something to think about. In fact, there are a number of anti-immigration Republicans who could be attracted to Trump's immigration plan (though many of those congressional Republicans have already endorsed candidates ).
Another Republican who hasn't endorsed yet but could be drawn to Trump's immigration plan?
Mo Brooks, R-Ala. Brooks hasn't officially thrown his support behind anyone, but he's one of the staunchest opponents of illegal immigration in Congress — and his own populist, anti-GOP-establishment streak could lead him to support Trump. It's no secret Brooks is close with Cruz, but he told an Alabama crowd at the end of July there were some people running "who have never held public office before that intrigue me — and I like what they're saying."
Asked about supporting Trump, Brooks told CQ Roll Call Thursday that he wouldn't consider endorsing anyone until November at the earliest.
"Do think Cruz would make an excellent, winning nominee and president," he said via text, adding that he has similar thoughts about three or four other candidates.
While it's clear Brooks has a soft spot for Cruz, November could be a different world in the presidential debate. Trump could have fallen off by then — or he could be an even more dominant candidate. Either way, Brooks doesn't sound closed off to Trump, even if he isn't his first choice.
It seems as if Brooks is maintaining some level of skepticism at this point, but he's not ruling out Trump. Another Republican in that category?
Dave Brat, R-Va. Brat took down then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor last year with an outsider message focused on debt and immigration, and while Brat told CQ Roll Call last week that, at this point, he was "listening and learning," he laid out a road map for a candidate to snag his endorsement.
"Waiting for the first one to reference 127 trillion in unfunded liabilities and that all federal revenue will go toward only the 4 entitlement programs and interest payments by 2027," Brat said via text message. "So no endorsements yet but the first one that weighs in on that topic will grab my attention very quickly."
Either way, Trump seems to be grabbing the attention of voters and members — even if the latter group is a bit hesitant to endorse such a politically incorrect candidate. Even before the August recess, members seemed to be taking notice of Trump.
Ted Yoho, R-Fla. While Yoho may have a style that at times resembles Trump's, the firebrand Republican who offered himself as an alternative to Speaker John A. Boehner earlier this year — and recently signed on as cosponsor of a motion to vacate the chair — seems to understand that presenting Trump as the GOP presidential candidate comes with some pitfalls. But he also understands that voters are frustrated.
"I think it's an indication to see Donald Trump leading in the polls of what the American people feel," Yoho told CQ Roll Call just before the August recess. "They're fed up. I mean, they are fed up to put Donald Trump at the top of the polls? That's pretty scary."
Yoho was talking about a fracture in the Republican Party, and he brought up Trump without prompting to explain that divide. And even though Yoho might think it's "scary" that voters are supporting Trump in large numbers, he seems to understand the frustration.
And as Yoho points out, Trump's candidacy — which Republicans endorse him and, if he is the nominee, which Republicans refuse to support him — might more clearly reveal some of the fault lines in the party.
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