Republican National Committee members, meeting here Friday, said they will support New York billionaire Donald Trump if he wins the GOP’s nomination.
Beating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is more important than worrying about Trump’s impact on the party, those leaders said. Some GOP leaders have expressed concern that caustic statements by the GOP front-runner could damage the party with women and minority voters.
“Whoever it is, we’ll get behind them and do our best win the White House,” said Glenn McCall, a Republican National Committee member from South Carolina.
Cindy Costa, an RNC committeewoman from South Carolina, said she came away impressed with Trump’s economic expertise after chatting with him backstage before a recent campaign rally.
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“He was such a gracious gentleman,” said Costa, who has not picked a favorite in the GOP presidential race. “The Donald Trump sometimes that we see on stage is a little bit different from the real man.”
Just a few weeks ago, Republican leaders fretted about how Trump’s rise could hurt the party with women and minority voters, who did not back the GOP in 2008 and 2012.
But Trump has remained the leader in Republican polls since August, and the Iowa caucus is less than three weeks away.
“Reality. It’s kicked in,” said Curly Haugland, an RNC committeeman from North Dakota. “People have accepted the inevitability.
“Now, Trump could lose it. There are a whole bunch of folks hoping he falls down the stairs and breaks a leg.”
The GOP’s angry wing
Publicly, GOP leaders did not show any concern over what Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley called the GOP race’s “angriest voices” in her State of the Union response this week.
Haley said she was referring to Trump, who has suggested a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and deporting undocumented immigrants.
Some pundits think Haley’s comments also could apply to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who is second in polls nationally. Cruz has touted his hard-line stances on immigration and willingness to carpet bomb terrorists.
Together, Trump and Cruz create the “angry” wing of the GOP field. But, in South Carolina, more than half of Republican voters support the two, according to polls.
“I understand why people are angry, and I don’t think we can convince them not to be angry,” Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson said after Thursday’s GOP debate in North Charleston. “We do have to present to them logical solutions and not solutions that are engendered from anger.”
Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, another 2016 GOP candidate, agreed.
“You can’t divide your way to the presidency,” Bush told The State newspaper on Friday. “We need to convince people there’s a better day ahead.”
After eight years of Democratic President Barack Obama and with the prospect of another Clinton in the White House, Bush said Republicans have an opportunity to win in November with a candidate like their two previous GOP presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
“This is a totally different election than the other two,” Bush said. “The basic fact is that we cannot win appealing only to older white voters.”
But Bush, an early front-runner, is mired at fifth in the polls, trailing Trump, Cruz, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Carson, a retired Baltimore neurosurgeon.
Tone, message matter
Republican leaders talked in code Friday about the possibility of a Trump or Cruz nomination. Without mentioning the name of any candidate, they spoke of striking the right tone and message in hopes of winning women and minority voters.
Asked if a Trump or Cruz nomination would hurt efforts to win over more women and minorities, Carson, for instance, declined to name names.
“Let’s hope to have, whoever the nominee is, think about the totality of our society and the fact that our strength is in our unity,” Carson said.
“Tone matters, and I think our candidates know that,” said Rock Hill’s McCall. “We just want to stress that, as often as possible, with our candidate. I think we have to make sure that we’re in sync and understand that there’s a group that’s looking at us who want to be involved.”
Trump’s nomination would not blunt the RNC’s diversity drive, which includes new TV ads touting a leadership program featuring minorities, McCall said.
“He’s not talking about all people and all immigrants,” McCall said of Trump. “It’s about those that are not here that have bypassed our immigration system. We need to fix the system.
“I think people of color will understand that and most of those that I talked to, especially young people, really appreciate his straight talk, but also his background in business,” he said. “They feel that’s what we need in the White House. So I don’t think that will be a problem at all.”
Not all RNC committee members are on board with a Trump nomination.
Holland Redfield, an RNC member from the Virgin Islands, told Politico the GOP is being terrorized into playing nice with the party’s angry factions to avoid Trump running as an independent.
‘Learn from lessons in the past’
After the GOP convention, the RNC will bring in the party’s nominee to develop a message for the general election and try to avoid a repeat of past pitfalls.
Trump, a real estate mogul who has made his independence a campaign issue, has attacked the party at times, suggesting that reining him could be a problem.
However, RNC spokesman Sean Spicer dismissed talk that Trump would not listen to the party as closely as others who might win the nomination: “The candidate and us share the same goal – winning.”
Messages shift and soften when candidates switch to running in a general election, party leaders said. Costa and West Virginia RNC committeeman Conrad Lucas said Trump will listen to the party.
“Anyone who has been successful in business will understand it’s best to learn from lessons in the past,” said Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia GOP.
Trump supported 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney during his candidacy and had a chance to see that campaign’s mistakes first hand, several party officials said.
For now, however, Trump and other GOP candidates are wooing voters in the upcoming GOP primaries, who are angry with government, RNC spokesman Spicer said.
“Our candidates are appropriately responding to the concerns that the American citizens have,” he said.
That anger must be directed at Democrats to win back the White House, no matter who wins the Republican nomination, GOP party leaders said.
“If people can’t get their mind around the idea that a ‘no’ vote for Donald Trump is a vote for Hillary, then they don’t understand politics at all,” Costa said.