As Donald Trump moves closer to sewing up the nomination, Republican lawmakers are publicly deciding whether to back Trump—or back away from him. He has nailed some of his first major endorsements in recent days by elected officials, but just as many others have thrown their weight behind other candidates and aim to take him down as the crucial Super Tuesday primaries loom.
Here’s a look at some of the most vocal Republican officials on both sides of the divisive frontrunner.
Chris Christie: The New Jersey Governor was Trump’s first major Establishment win when he announced his endorsement on Friday. Christie came under fire for the move, however, with many seeing it as pure political opportunism for him to support the man he had been harshly criticizing just days before. “It was though Christie were auditioning, in real time, to be Trump’s VP pick,” TIME’s Philip Elliott writes.
Jeff Sessions: The Alabaman became the first Senator to endorse Trump when he came out in support of the business mogul on Sunday. Sessions’ support shows that Trump may actually be able to win over the dedicated conservatives in the Capitol. “I’m becoming mainstream. All these people are now endorsing me,” Trump said when Sessions announced.
Paul LePage: The Maine Governor’s support shows that, in this race, the dynamics are shifting quickly. On Feb. 20, LePage urged other Republican governors to draft an open letter disavowing Trump, the New York Times reported. (LePage had endorsed Christie before he dropped out.) But less than a week later, the controversial Tea Party governor had reversed his course, endorsing Trump and saying, “Instead of delivering favors for corporate donors, like the other candidates in this race, [Trump] will fight to improve the lives of the American people.”
Jan Brewer: The former Arizona Governor said she was endorsing Trump for a specific reason: “As Arizona’s Governor, I witnessed too much heartache, loss and suffering caused by illegal immigration,” she said in a statement. “For years I pleaded with the federal government to do their job and secure our border. Today, we can elect a President who will do just that—Donald J. Trump.” Brewer’s endorsement followed Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s endorsement of Trump in January, which also centered on border security, and shows that the issue that rocketed Trump’s campaign into the national spotlight last June remains one of his key selling points.
Ben Sasse: The Senator from Nebraska has made it his mission this election season to keep Trump from getting elected. Sasse has waged an all out war against Trump on social media and recently became the first Republican senator to declare that he would not vote for Trump even if he wins the nomination. “I’m as frustrated and saddened as you are about what’s happening to our country. But I cannot support Donald Trump,” Sasse wrote in a Facebook post. “My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them.” Sasse’s commitment shows that there could be a rift between conservatives like Sessions who will find common ground with Trump, and those like Sasse who are too turned off by his rhetoric and policy positions.
Tom Coburn: The former Oklahoma Senator endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday, and said in the process that Trump is “perpetuating a fraud on the American people,” CNN reported. “His empty promises, bullying and bloviating rhetoric will only deepen the frustration and disillusionment that gave rise to his campaign.” Like Sasse, Coburn gets at the heart of the problem facing elected Republicans—which would be worse for the party: not coalescing behind and supporting the eventual nominee? Or electing Donald Trump?
Ron Johnson: The Wisconsin Senator was asked Monday about Trump’s refusal to condemn David Duke and white supremacists. “I go to bed every night praying that our nominee is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas, and courage,” Johnson said, according to Buzzfeed. “This nation hungers for someone who can lead this nation, not be divisive.” Johnson shows that some of Trump’s more outlandish statements could haunt him with GOP politicians who don’t want to be associated with those views.
Nikki Haley: The South Carolina Governor has thrown her weight behind Rubio and has pivoted to attacking Trump in recent days along with him. “Donald Trump is everything we teach our kids not to do in kindergarten,” Haley said recently, according to The Post and Courier. “We have seen behavior over and over again that is just unacceptable… I think what we saw from Marco is what we tell our children also: If a bully hits you, you hit back.” This shows that since Rubio’s performance in the most recent Republican debate when he came out swinging at Trump, other politicians who back him (South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy and Sen. Tim Scott, for example) may become more vocal in their opposition to Trump, as well.
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