But the Republicans on this list have good reason to want to avoid being tied to Trump: Democrats are going to drive that connection home with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. Many lawmakers on this list are vulnerable Republicans who want nothing to do with Trump's divisive politics and sky-high unpopularity with minority, women and millennial voters. The people Trump alienates are the very people these politicians need to win over.
When you step back and think about it, it's pretty extraordinary we're in this position. Not one Senate Republican up for reelection has wholeheartedly embraced their party's presumptive nominee.
It's fair to say that when Trump entered this race almost a year ago, not one Senate Republican thought they'd have to. So there's really no political playbook for a situation like this. Given that, Republicans are doing the best they can to make statements that help keep the party together and not alienate Trump supporters while also appealing to independents and even Republicans who remain wary, at best, of the party's standard-bearer.
Some are doing it better than others. Here are the 10 most tortured Republican responses to Trump, in order of least to most.
To the Line!
10. I hope he’ll change
Rep. Mike Bishop, a freshman from Michigan, is on our list for publicly expressing the desire for the problem of Trump and his positions to just go away. When a Politico reporter asked if he'd share a stage with Trump, he said he probably wouldn't, adding: "I'm hoping that if he is the nominee, he'll modulate, he'll be presidential, and I won't have to defend his words."
9. I’m ignoring my past comments
Rep. Bob Dold, an Illinois lawmaker in a competitive reelection battle, was one of the first GOP lawmakers to say he wouldn't support Trump, way back in the summer when Trump questioned John McCain's status as a war hero.
When a Politico reporter asked him about it in March, as Trump closed in on the nomination, Dold said: "Honestly, I’m focused on one race. I’m focused on one race alone.”
As an update, Dold's office pointed out that he has been quoted at least nine time since then -- and before -- he is no fan of Donald Trump and will not be supporting him. Here's his interview May 16 with WGN Radio: "I’ve been clear about my stance on that, and it’s a personal thing. "When it comes to that, for me whether it be his comments about women, his comments about Muslims, his comments about Latinos, but for me the kicker was his comments about veterans…and so for me, that was obviously one step too far."
8. I think Donald Trump can win. But campaign with the guy? Meh.
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina may have a reelection battle on his hands, too, especially in a presidential year in which his state tends to be more competitive. Speaking at the state's GOP convention in May, Burr urged party unity by having everyone get on board with the presumptive nominee. Here's the conversation he had with Raleigh, N.C.'s News & Observer afterward:
Asked by a reporter if he thinks Trump can defeat Hillary Clinton in November, he said “absolutely — I think Donald Trump is Hillary’s worst nightmare.”But will he campaign with Trump in North Carolina? “I’m going to be focused on my own re-election,” he replied as he walked away from the reporter.
As an update, on Thursday Burr said he would campaign with Trump in North Carolina: "I'm supportive of his presidency and I believe that what America needs is new leadership. We don't need a third term of Barack Obama."
7. I’m sticking to my talking points
When asked by Time Warner Cable News NY a few days before the New York primary whether she'd support Trump, freshman Rep. Elise Stefanik, who represents northeastern New York state, replied with the same answer three times in one interview:
"I'm focused 100 percent on doing my job representing this district."
"I'm focused on doing my job."
"I am focused on doing my job."
6. I haven’t thought about it
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, who is trying to hang on to his seat in Pennsylvania in November, has said he'll support the Republican nominee. But like others on this list, he hedged hard when asked whether he'd campaign with the guy he ostensibly supports.
On Thursday, in an interview with Philadelphia's CBS affiliate, Toomey said campaigning with Trump would depend on campaign logistics: "Whether our paths cross, whether we are together at an event, I don’t know. I don’t rule that out. That would be a function of the logistics and what makes sense on a given moment in the campaign."
He also wrote in recent op-ed for philly.com that he's reserving his judgment on what to do about Trump and shared the pros and cons of doing so: "Like many Pennsylvanians, I'm not pleased with the two choices we have. As a Republican elected official, I am inclined to support the nominee of my party. That doesn't mean I must always agree with him."
5. I’m not Donald Trump
Sen. Rob Portman is in a tough reelection battle in Ohio against the state's former Democratic governor, Ted Strickland. He has said he'll support the GOP nominee, but he left open plenty of wiggle room to back out if "something crazy happens." And he has repeatedly refused to talk about whether he'd campaign with Trump.
"I'm not Donald Trump and nobody perceives me as Donald Trump," he told Politico in May, by way of explanation. "I'm also not Ted Cruz. I'm not Hillary Clinton, I'm not a lot of people. We just run our own campaign."
4. I’ll support but not endorse
The top part of our list is reserved almost exclusively for lawmakers who are doing the support-but-not-endorse two-step. They say they'll support Trump (well, actually, most just say "the nominee" in place of Trump's name), but they are trying to draw a distinction between supporting him and actively endorsing him.
Unfortunately for these lawmakers, that's a distinction without a difference. The definition of endorse literally includes the word "support."
But that won't stop politicians from trying to have it both ways. An adviser to Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota told Politico in May: "I can tell you that he is not endorsing in the presidential race and that he will support the nominee of the party."
3. I’ll endorse the nominee. Okay, I won’t.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, in a tight reelection battle against the man he beat, former senator Russ Feingold (D), originally said this in May: "I am going to certainly endorse the Republican nominee, and obviously it looks like that will be Mr. Trump."
But on Saturday, he tried to clarify that statement in an interview with a local radio station: "To me, support versus endorse are two totally different things."
The walk-back attempt earned him ridicule, including right on this here blog from Chris Cillizza, who wrote: "The first definition of 'endorse' contains the word 'support.' So, Johnson is wrong."
2. Silence. Lots of silence.
A break now from the two-step, for Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a vulnerable incumbent from Maine who has repeatedly met reporters' questions about Trump with awkward silences. A rundown:
"Good question," he said in March when asked if he'd appear with Trump in his district. And then, from Politico: "An uncomfortable pause ensued as the question hung in the air and Poliquin waited for an elevator to the House floor."
In May, after Trump became the presumptive nominee, Poliquin issued a statement hinting at supporting Trump but, like many other Republicans, conspicuously leaving out Trump's name:
On May 13, the Bangor Daily News reported Poliquin told activists he thought Trump would "win it all," and that he's excited to work with Trump to shape the candidate. But he warned: "I don't know what half his policies are."
On Friday, Roll Call asked him again whether he'd support Trump and reported he "stared straight ahead and occasionally looked at his phone, walking briskly from the House floor to another press conference."
Poliquin's repeated silence has opened him up to gleeful attacks like this Democratic campaign video featuring a suited, masked Donald Trump eating a taco salad while holding up a cardboard sign that screams:
1. The Ayotte evasion
Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh used that term to describe the infamous (in some political circles) tortured statement from New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is locked in perhaps the tightest reelection campaign of all. Ayotte might have been the original support-endorse two-stepper.
As the New Hampshire Union Leader reported in May:
"As she's said from the beginning, Kelly plans to support the nominee. As a candidate herself, she hasn't and isn't planning to endorse anyone this cycle," said Liz Johnson, communications director for Kelly for New Hampshire.Johnson said the senator is not endorsing Trump.
Even Stephen Colbert had fun with this one. We'll let him have the last word: "She's in some sort of political quantum state. It's like Schrodinger's cat, except that she would rather endorse a dead cat than Donald Trump."