In the immediate aftermath of Trump becoming the presumptive nominee, it looked like the party was headed toward an irrevocable split. Prominent Republican writers and operatives declared they were voting for Hillary Clinton and changing parties. The last two Republican presidents, who likely will never forgive Trump for what he did to Jeb Bush, said they would remain neutral in the race. And Republican lawmakers like Kelly Ayotte attempted a Selina Meyer-esque strategy of taking all positions and none, saying they would “support” the Republican nominee in the fall but would not specifically “endorse” Trump himself.
There are also, however, strong signs that the #NeverTrump line is weakening. The New York Times reports that Trump is holding private conversations with Marco Rubio, his main establishment rival in the primary. While Trump will remain toxic to certain Republican members of Congress down-ballot, he has indicated that he will begin fundraising on their behalf, which could quickly endear him to his party. And after the initial freak-out, cooler heads in the party are calling for consolidation. “Life is a series of choices, and this choice looks like one between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” Haley Barbour told The Washington Post. Mitch McConnell said, “As the presumptive nominee, he now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals.”
This could all fall apart the next time Trump retweets a Nazi. But McConnell & Co. appear resigned to gritting their teeth and minimizing the damage Trump will do this fall to the GOP’s majorities in Congress. The main drawback of this approach is that it erases whatever distinction was left between the party and Trumpism. Sad.