On Monday evening as the Senate was coming back into session, I conducted an unofficial poll of 10 Senate Republicans. What did they think of the violence at Donald Trump’s rallies? The answers reflected a party closing ranks around Trump—nine of the 10 senators either blamed the protesters or demurred commenting. But the answers also showed an Establishment discouraged by Trump’s lead: all 10 refused to utter his name, even when voicing tepid support for him.
There were those whose answers were just baffling: “Can I ask about the violence in the Trump rallies this week?” I asked Kansas’s Pat Roberts.
“I didn’t have any part in that,” he replied.
North Carolina’s Richard Burr said he’d support Trump if he were the nominee, though Burr might be making up for reports that he told a closed-door meeting in January that he’d rather vote for Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders if Texas colleague Ted Cruz becomes the GOP nominee. “I’m not getting into the presidential races,” Burr said tersely before walking away.
Georgia’s Johnny Isakson pled ignorance. “I’ve been campaigning for myself I have not endorsed anyone and I haven’t been paying attention to it,” he said.
A few, including Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Iowa’s Joni Ernst just shook their heads and said it’s sad what’s going on right now but wouldn’t comment more than that.
Then there was the group who blamed the violence on the the other side. “I just think it’s a poor reflection on the protesters,” said West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito. “I think you should be able to have your own political rallies, protest outside. We’ve done it for years like that, calmly and peaceably.”
Alabama’s Richard Shelby blamed the violence on “hard left wing instigators” who trained at “world trade” events.
Utah’s Orrin Hatch, who’s endorsed Florida’s Marco Rubio, came out surprisingly strongly for Trump. “I don’t think [Trump] did anything that caused the violence,” Hatch said. “The people who did it ought to be thrown in jail. We ought to allow presidential candidates whomever they are however much you disagree with them to be able to campaign.”
Even South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham ladled out some blame. “I think it’s an inevitable consequence of the rhetoric that he has used over time. And I think the people at moveon.org are anarchists, so it’s a bad combination.” Graham said.
Of the 10, Graham was the only one to call Trump out for inciting the violence. “Bottom line: this is the inevitable result of really extreme policy positions and rhetoric,” said Graham, who withdrew from the presidential race in December. “All I can say is it’s happening at his rallies and nobody else’s. … At the end of the day, saying I will pay your legal bills is probably not to discourage somebody from doing violence.”
That said, Graham believed the #NeverTrump movement began too late and Trump would likely be the party’s nominee. In which case “we’re going to lose,” Graham sighed. “There are 330 million people in this country and if we’re down to [Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton], that would be sad.”
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