Former President Donald Trump’s path back to the White House – despite difficulties – appears broader each day, Neither lawsuits, FBI inquiries, jailing of friends and allies, or the January 6 incident seem to be able to quell his momentum. He has even had a smattering of primary opponents step up and endorse number 45 to be 47. But where does this leave the merry band of Republican Never-Trumpers? As the iconic 70s rock band, Queen, might croon: under pressure.
At the top of the double boiler? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) are just two such folks who didn’t make sure that Trump was out for the count before publicly skewering the guy. And everyone knows the former president already has trust issues.
Never-Trumpers and Unintended Consequences
Seems like it was eons ago when McConnell delivered his scathing review of the January 6 episode. “The mob was fed lies,” McConnell told the chamber, “they were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” Of course, time and hindsight have proven the narrative inspired by the media was heavy on the spin. And perhaps McConnell is now realizing his premature bandwagon jump. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has an explanation for this:
“Just like four years ago and four years before that —people say pretty strong things. And then when he becomes a nominee, they just kiss the ring, as Donald Trump has said. Oh, I’m not going to be doing that.”
Still, roughly 130 House Republicans and 30 Senate Republicans have thus far added their names to the endorsement list. This roster includes some of the minority leader’s closest allies: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), who both counsel McConnell and members of his leadership team. It appears that some folks can battle it out and still leave the animosity on the field.
Thune and McConnell must not have seen this coming, and the insiders are scratching their heads. Trump’s Iowa Caucus win was historic. That was apparently the reality wakeup call Florida Governor Ron DeSantis needed. With his usual calmness, the Sunshine State governor announced he saw no path to victory and promptly endorsed his rival, the Donald. And through all the fanfare and media touting, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s double-digit loss in New Hampshire soon followed. And that loss and win gave sideline Republicans the confidence to join Team Trump.
The other prominent message besides how big a margin Trump is pulling is unity. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and former candidates on the GOP ticket, Vivek Ramaswamy and ND Gov. Doug Burgum, all mimicked the soundbite.
The only one standing in the way of presumptive nominee status is Haley. And she is one stubborn opponent. Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel attempted to sway Haley into conceding so that the GOP could present a united front, saying she could not see “the math and the path going forward” and called for everyone to “unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump.” Whether the entirety of the GOP likes it or not.
But that also leaves a nagging question: What happens if Trump wins the whole enchilada? McConnell is still the Senate Minority leader, which could be a damper on getting the work done. “Mitch is a pretty pragmatic guy,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who has also endorsed Trump. “I think part of the question is: Can Trump work with Mitch? That might be a tougher question.”
McConnell and Thune may want to drop their membership in the Never-Trumpers and instead make a plan on how to govern in concert if the former president grabs the brass ring.