Political opportunists and true Trumpkins in the GOP — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas governor Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — may find their enthusiastic endorsement and surrogacy for Donald Trump tainting them. In any future election or confirmation hearing they’ll be met with their own words endorsing Trump. If they want a federal judgeship, good luck convincing the Senate that they fully appreciate “equality before the law.” If they want a top Cabinet spot, look for Trump’s views to be used to impugn their judgment, fairness and policy acumen. It is already happening with Senate incumbents who have barely mumbled support for their party’s nominee. Take a look at this ad against Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio):
The RNC senior staffers who did nothing to slow Trump and eagerly embraced him may find their reputations damaged. If the GOP breaks up entirely they’ll be long remembered as presiding over the death of the party of Lincoln.
And for all your trouble you may not even score points with Trump. The Post reports: “Donald Trump lashed out Monday at former House speaker Newt Gingrich — one of his close allies who has been mentioned as a possible running mate — saying that it was ‘inappropriate’ for Gingrich to criticize the Republican presidential nominee’s recent comments about the ethnicity of a federal judge.” All that groveling by Newt turns out to be wasted.
If you have presidential aspirations, as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) almost certainly does, eagerness to speak on behalf of Trump or wishy-washiness in the face of Trump’s outrageous language may be deadly. “That man (Curiel) is an American, born in the U.S., a judge who has earned that position,” was all Rubio could manage to say. “I don’t think it reflects well in the Republican Party. I don’t think it reflects wells on us as a nation.” (Actually it does not reflect well on him.) Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is going to have a tough time living down his tribute to Trump as a “realist.”
What about the formal endorsers who nevertheless speak out against Trump? That would include Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (Wis.). Their objections and frequent denunciations may make them look awkward in the short run (But if you denounce him because of X how then can you endorse him, Senator?) but the damage may be contained. It may also be that at some point the nominal endorsers have enough, pull back and acknowledge Trump has so many serious flaws that he cannot be president.
The “winners” here are the ones who announce their refusal to endorse (e.g. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Gov. Larry Hogan (Md.), Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Jeb Bush) or simply never get around to it (e.g. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz (tex.), Sen. Susan Collins (Maine)). Their political opponents may still try to lump them in with Trump (especially Cruz for his months of fawning), but they will in contests against Trump endorsers be able to hold the high ground. Democrats will not be able to tar them as enablers of a racist, misogynistic bully. Both in primaries and general elections they can take the high ground, reminding voters they did not twist themselves into pretzels to back someone with few conservative positions and virtually no redeeming personal qualities.
In sum, while the MSM suggests the entire GOP has fallen in line behind Trump, that is not really so. And for those who counseled that getting in line to back Trump was “required” or “smart” may discover it was neither. Every once in a while doing the right thing is also the politically astute thing.