Wait a minute: Aren’t the Republicans supposed to be the organized party? Received wisdom in politics pegs the GOP as disciplined and Democrats as bar brawlers who just can’t help themselves.
Democrats lined up behind Hillary Clinton after she won enough delegates last week to be assured of the nomination, evinced by quick endorsements from President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Some prominent Republicans, in contrast, still have not embraced Donald Trump – and some are pulling or rethinking previous endorsements.
The trajectories of each presumptive nominee’s campaign flipped last week. Clinton, who had been struggling to end her primary fight with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, prevailed with big victories in New Jersey and California. Trump, who seemed to benefit from consolidating GOP support, suddenly was stuck again in the quicksand of controversy.
He complained that the Indiana-born federal judge presiding over a civil fraud suit against Trump University, which purported to teach real estate investing, had an “absolute conflict” because of his “Mexican heritage.” The judge could not be fair, Trump said, because everyone knows the businessman is a fierce critic of illegal immigration who wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
“In campaigns there are a lot of runs like in basketball – one side has a 10-minute hot streak and the other is cold, then it reverses,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster who teaches political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “We’ll probably see more of these oscillations over the summer, depending on what happens.”
Republican reaction to Trump’s attacks on the jurist was swift and negative.
The nation’s highest ranking GOP official, House Speaker Paul Ryan, essentially accused his party’s soon-to-be nominee of racism. Trump’s remarks about the judge were a “textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said.
The speaker had waited for more than a month after Trump wrapped up the nomination to even say he’d support him.
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican facing an uphill reelection campaign, announced Tuesday that he would not back Trump for president.
“While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump’s latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for president regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party,” Kirk said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said she might vote for Clinton.
Some went further. Hackensack, N.J., Mayor John Labrosse and Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino left the GOP last week, saying that Trump’s “divisive and racist statements” are “insulting to many of our people and completely unacceptable.” About a third of the North Jersey city’s residents are foreign-born, many of them Spanish speakers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) did not withdraw his endorsement of Trump, but said he should “start talking about the issues the American people care about. . . . Quit attacking the various people that you competed with [in primaries] and various minority groups, and get on message.”
In a blunt podcast interview with Bloomberg News, McConnell said Trump’s choice of a vice presidential running mate would be critical. “He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues,” McConnell said.
The chaos underscored that for all Trump’s success in the GOP primaries acting as his own strategist and freewheeling with attacks and insults from the stump, such an approach might not work as well in the general election, with a broader electorate. Some Republican leaders also were worried that the Trump campaign is unorganized and underfunded.
The last Republican president, George W. Bush, and the party’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, have stayed on the sidelines, and Romney has ripped Trump.
On the Democratic side, nobody was concerned about Clinton’s organization, which is formidable. But some have fretted about a general lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy, particularly among the young voters drawn to Sanders. Those concerns seemed to dissipate last week as Clinton emerged victorious and found her voice attacking Trump as unfit for the job and embracing her historic achievement as the first woman to be the nominee of a major party.
With the prolonged primary season over, Clinton will no longer face daily assaults about her Wall Street ties and pragmatic, centrist approach from the fiery leftist Sanders.
Shortly after the senator visited Obama in the Oval Office, Clinton’s campaign released a pre-recorded endorsement from Obama.
“Look, I know how hard this job can be,” Obama said. “That’s why I know Hillary will be so good at it. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.”
A cascade of labor union endorsements followed, as did Warren’s. She is a liberal champion of tough Wall Street regulation who had stayed neutral in the Democratic primary race, and her support could help bridge the divide with some Sanders supporters.
“I am ready to get in this fight and work my heart out for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States, and to make sure that Donald Trump never gets anyplace close to the White House,” Warren said Thursday night on MSNBC.
She called Trump a “nasty, thin-skinned fraud.” The billionaire has called her “Pocahontas,” an allusion to her claims to Cherokee ancestry.
Sanders did not drop out of the race but signaled that he likely would soon. In a Washington rally Thursday, he did not mention Clinton or the convention. Sanders will not be nominated, but he has a chance to ensure that the issues he and his millions of followers raised in the primary – centered on economic inequality – are reflected in the Democratic platforms and fall campaign.