After Tuesday, Senate Republicans can no longer dodge what has become a very clear reality: They can either support Donald Trump, their party’s presumptive nominee, or not.
According to our survey of all the GOP senators in March, most of them have signaled they'd support Trump — even though his now-presumptive nomination could ruin their chances to hold the chamber. That includes most of the vulnerable incumbents running for reelection in purple or blue states -- a fact Senate Democrats eagerly pointed out in this recent ad.
But many senators left wiggle room to back away from Trump if necessary; Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), who is in a tough reelection battle back home, said he intends to support the nominee “unless something crazy happens.” And according to our March survey, at least 22 Republicans aren’t sure or wouldn’t say.
Only one Republican senator — Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) — has said clearly that he won’t be on Team Trump.
Whether they committed to support Trump or not, most Republican senators were hoping this day wouldn’t come. Now they’re on the hook for getting behind someone who has completely upended their party and looks like he’ll be the most unpopular major-party presidential nominee in recent history.
Which means Senate Republicans’ ambiguity about Trump can’t last long. To know where we’re starting from, here’s what top GOP Senate candidates who will be or could be sharing the ballot with Trump have said about him, grouped into three broad categories:
“I’m resigned to whoever we nominate” — Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri
“Jon believes any of the Republican candidates would be better than the Obama-Bennet national security failures that would continue with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.” — a spokesperson for Jon Keyser, one of the leading GOP Senate candidates in Colorado
“I will be supporting the Republican nominee, whoever that is.” — Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania
“In the end, I’ll support whoever the nominee is.”— Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin
“I intend to support the Republican nominee.” -- Rep. Todd Young, Indiana
Yes, but ...
“I want Republican voters to pay close attention to what our party’s most respected and knowledgeable leaders and national security experts are saying about Mr. Trump.” — Sen. John McCain, Arizona, said after 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney blasted Trump. McCain has also said he’d support the Republican nominee.
“I plan to support the Republican nominee. However, I’m going to watch this process play out.” — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire
Update: Ayotte reaffirmed Wednesday morning that she'll back the GOP nominee, but her campaign says she won't endorse Trump. We'll leave it to you to decide the difference between those two things.
“I’ve said for a year now, I intend to support the Republican nominee. But I’ve also said: Unless something crazy happens.” — Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio
“The GOP nomination is a long and fluid process right now, and we are not going to try to decrypt a very hazy and cloudy crystal ball.” — Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois. When he was later asked directly by a reporter on camera, he said: “If he’s the nominee, I certainly would.”
“Here’s where I’m at: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist" -- Sasse
“You can’t say you’re going to, you know, take 1.6 billion people and stereotype them.” — Rep. Joe Heck, the leading candidate for the open Nevada Senate race, adding he would support the nominee.
“I don't know. I truly don't know.” — Rep. David Jolly, a Florida GOP Senate candidate, on whether he'd vote for Trump in November. According to the Miami Herald, self-funder Carlos Beruff is the only candidate in the crowded race so far who said he’d support Trump if he were the nominee.
This post has been updated with a previously unknown comment from Young.