With Donald Trump exiting Super Tuesday still looking like the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, some establishment Republicans are interpreting his comments in ways that will allow them to support him despite the race-related controversies embroiling his campaign.
One such Republican is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who backs Sen. Marco Rubio for president but has said he’ll support whoever ends up supporting whoever ends up being the GOP candidate.
Asked about Trump’s recent mixed messages about the Ku Klux Klan — Friday, Trump disavowed an endorsement from former Grand Wizard David Duke, then didn’t totally disavow it during a TV appearance the next day, only to blame his failure to disavow on a faulty earpiece — Hatch told CNN he doesn’t think Trump, “deep down,” is really a racist. He’s just “inexperienced in expressing himself” on racial issues.
“I think it’s up to us to make it clear that we don’t tolerate those types of racist organizations and I don’t know many people who would believe that [Republicans] do,” Hatch said. “I think deep down, I don’t think Donald Trump tolerates it either. I think he is just inexperienced in expressing himself at things like that.”
Despite Trump again disavowing Duke and white supremacist groups during his victory press conference last night, racial tension continues to surround his campaign.
Today, New York Magazine writes about Donald Trump Jr. doing an interview over the weekend with James Edwards, host of “Political Cesspool,” a show which Edwards describes as “unapologetically pro-white.” And Shuan King has a piece about a black University of Louisville student who says she was hit with racial and sexual slurs while being kicked out of a Trump rally. Stories of that sort have sparked concerns about rights violations at Trump events.
— Natalie Jackson (@NatJackEsq) March 2, 2016
While voters headed to the ballots yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (W-WI) expressed a viewpoint shared by many prominent Republicans — that there’s no room in the party for a candidate who waffles when it comes to white supremacy.
“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” Ryan said. “They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices.” (Notice how Ryan’s comments, which critical of Trump, don’t totally close the door on the possibility he’ll support him if he ends up being the candidate — indeed, Ryan went on to say he still plans to support the nominee.)
Nonetheless, a CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday indicates Trump still has as much support as any Republican candidate on the topic of race relations. Sixteen percent of likely voters across the political spectrum think Trump will do the best job of any candidate, Democrat or Republican, when it comes to handling race relations — the highest percentage of any Republican. Hillary Clinton is the most trusted overall on that issue with 29 percent, and Bernie Sanders is second with 22 percent.
Even among non-white voters, Trump does relatively well on race. Seven percent of nonwhite voters think Trump would be the best at handling race relations. That’s way behind Clinton’s 40 percent on that issue and Sanders’ 32 percent, but just one percentage point behind Rubio, who’s the most trusted Republican on race among non-whites.
With race not proving to be among the set of compelling issues in the GOP nomination contest, it remains to be seen whether Trump’s KKK controversy, combined with his record of making outrageous and divisive comments about immigrants, renders him unelectable in a general contest. But if does end up being the candidate, it’s clear some establishment Republicans will give him the benefit of the doubt rather than refusing to support their party’s nomination.