If congressional Republicans have one thin veil of protection against the potential freight train that is Donald Trump this November, it's this: saying they support the Republican nominee for president — but later assuring voters that they don't endorse him.
Understand the difference? Us neither. Support and endorse literally mean the same thing. Seriously. Chris Cillizza said so.
But rarely has this kind of politically convenient verbal gymnastics been so blatantly on display than it was today with Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.). During an unrelated news conference Wednesday, in one sentence, Hardy — one of the most endangered House Republicans this year — flatly said he hadn't endorsed Trump for president. In the very next, he said he supported the GOP nominee for president.
Eagle-eyed Nevada PolitiFact reporter Riley Snyder caught the exchange:
It's pretty clear what happened here. Hardy felt backed into a corner and unsure of what to say, so he defaulted to his talking points: I support but don't endorse.
That's the talking point of a lot of vulnerable congressional Republicans who are trying to square Trump's unpopularity with their sense of duty to the party. Previously, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) was the queen of this.
Here's what the campaign of Ayotte, a popular senator in an epic reelection battle against the state's popular Democratic governor, told the New Hampshire Union Leader 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."
A Boston Globe columnist nicknamed that "the Ayotte evasion." We put Ayotte at No. 1 on our list of the 10 most tortured responses to Trump (a list that included literally ducking reporters to avoid answering a question on Trump).
But Hardy, for the political nakedness of his answer about Trump, may have just claimed the top spot.