WASHINGTON (AP) – The reaction of congressional Republicans to Donald Trump’s ascension ranged from subdued to silent on Wednesday, a day after the billionaire TV personality was all but anointed as the party’s presidential nominee.
A day after a decisive Indiana primary victory left Trump the sole GOP presidential contender standing, aides to House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Republicans did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday evening that he was committed to supporting his party’s nominee but signaled that he expects Trump to help heal the wounds of the GOP’s tumultuous primary fight.
Trump “now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals” of bolstering the economy and national security, McConnell said. Other Republicans offered less than full-throated promises to help him win the White House.
“I plan to put all of my support behind the Republican nominee and do whatever is asked of me to ensure a Republican is elected president,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, in a statement that lacked Trump’s name. Burgess had backed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who ended his presidential bid Tuesday evening.
The hushed reaction underscored GOP concern that Trump’s uninhibited remarks about women, Hispanics and others will cost congressional candidates at the polls in November.
Ryan, R-Wis., and McConnell have criticized Trump’s comments. Ryan has policy proposals in the works on taxes and other issues that House GOP candidates can tout regardless of what Trump does, while McConnell has privately told senators that lawmakers seeking re-election could drop him “like a hot rock.”
“What we know right now is obviously concerning,” Mike Shields, who heads the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political group that helps House GOP candidates, said of Trump’s remarks in an interview Wednesday.
Conservative Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said on WHO radio in Des Moines that it was time to support the nominee – but took a couple of pokes at Trump.
“I’ve never seen a nominee pour out so many insults on other people as Donald Trump has,” said King, who is chairing the Republican Party committee overseeing arrangements at this summer’s national convention. He added that Trump “is going to have to do a job of reaching out to conservatives.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a leading Trump foe, tweeted Tuesday evening: “Reporters keep asking if Indiana changes anything for me. The answer is simple: No.”
In contrast, Democrats were eager to link GOP congressional candidates to their party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
A press release by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said, “House Republicans: Welcome to the Trump Ticket, House Republicans’ Nightmare Has Become Reality.” The committee is House Democrats’ campaign organization.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., challenging veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., saw Trump’s victory as a fundraising opportunity.
“This is scary. Trump is dangerous for Arizona families,” she said in an email to supporters that added, “This is our chance to defeat McCain. Donate $5 now.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Erica Werner and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.