SPENCER, Ind. — Rep. Todd Young is reluctantly sticking with Donald Trump.
The Republican Senate candidate from Indiana, who is in a tight race against Democratic former senator Evan Bayh, has considered abandoning the Republican presidential nominee at several points over the past several months but never withdrew support. This week was no different.
After the release of a video revealing Trump talking about aggressive sexual behavior toward women, Young said he was giving “very serious consideration” to withdrawing support. But, again, he resolved to continue backing Trump.
Young’s positioning and repositioning on Trump is slightly different from that of most Republicans in tough Senate races. Almost every other Republican is facing headwinds because of their state’s Democratic lean, making it critical to find voters willing to support both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and a GOP Senate candidate.
But Young is running in a reliably red state that, at least until last week, was poised to vote for the Republican for the 12th time in the 13 most recent presidential elections. So whatever qualms he may have about Trump, abandoning him is not a viable option.
“My position is the same as their position. Most Hoosiers intend to support the Republican nominees. Most Hoosiers believe leaders like myself should speak out when we disagree,” Young said Monday afternoon in an interview here after touring a plant that manufactures medical devices.
Young, 44, a former Marine intelligence officer and father of four, is pledging to run the final weeks of the campaign as someone who will be a check against presidential excess — regardless of who wins the White House.
“I’ll be a check and balance against whomever our next president is,” he said.
Young’s position is actually the overwhelming position of a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Despite revulsion toward Trump and sagging poll numbers following Friday’s Washington Post report about the video, only about three dozen of the more than 300 Republicans in the House and the Senate have publicly said they will no longer support his candidacy or have joined calls for him to drop out of the race.
A small minority of congressional Republicans are boisterous backers of Trump, and several voiced displeasure at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) during a conference call Monday in which he essentially greenlighted others to abandon the nominee if it fit their political or personal purposes.
Some Republicans have completely rejected Trump, either from the outset last spring when he locked up the nomination or in the wake of this latest controversy.
But the vast swath of Republicans appear to fall into the same category as Young, not at all happy with their party’s nominee but still on board with his bid.
This has created a particularly delicate balancing act in which these Republicans try to sidestep discussions about Trump while campaigning. If successful, they avoid angering both the large number of their supporters backing him as well as the many voters who despise him.
That’s how Young spent Monday.
At two stops, here at Boston Scientific’s 1,000-employee plant and then later in Bloomington with Indiana University’s College Republicans, Young never mentioned Trump. He focused the discussion on how the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices had hurt the company’s ability to grow and how exports fueled its growth.
He told inspiring stories to the college students and asked them to volunteer — and he also delivered a full frontal assault on Bayh’s record of supporting President Obama’s agenda in his last two years in the Senate and then becoming a corporate lobbying magnate the past six years. Young has chopped Bayh’s initially huge lead of about 20 percent down to just a few percentage points, largely by accusing the former governor and senator of “going Washington.”
Within an hour or two of The Post’s report about Trump’s sexual banter in 2005, the Associated Press reported about Bayh’s last months in office in 2010 conducting job interviews.
It’s unclear how much that story broke through over the Trump noise.
Both Bayh and Young are sensitive about the anger Trump supporters feel toward Washington. In the interview, Young explained that Indiana chose Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) in the state’s Republican and Democratic primaries.
In trying to explain those outsider victories, Young said: “In the absence of specific solutions, or evidence that we have people in Washington, D.C., who can make a significant difference . . . people will cling to those who at least speak to their frustrations.”
On Sunday evening, at a Democratic fundraiser in Howard County, 40 miles north of Indianapolis, Bayh avoided direct attacks on Trump. Instead, he empathized with Trump supporters.
“It’s stuck, it’s broken. It’s not working. That’s why you see some of the stuff you see in the presidential election. People are fed up, they’ve had enough,” Bayh said of Washington.
The situation has left young conservatives distressed. After Young’s address to the College Republicans, the group’s leader confessed that he would not back Trump.
“This is a tough year for everybody,” said Brian Gamache, the president of the group. He paused for more than 10 seconds. “No, I’m not voting for him,” said Gamache, who turned 22 on Tuesday.
Reagan Kurk, 19, agreed. “I see my vote as being in support of somebody,” she said, explaining that her opposition was forged long before the latest controversy. “The lesser of two evils is still evil.”
For Young, neither Trump nor Clinton is particularly fit to be commander in chief. He paused for five seconds considering Trump running the military.
His response summed up the Republican dilemma.
“I intend to support him, and I would, I would take that position as a United States senator. I would be supportive of him, but when he’s wrong, I would be an independent voice prepared to speak out quite forcefully against him,” he said. “I do believe that with the right people around him, and with the right support in Congress, he can be effective.”