Why There’s Been No Hill Exodus From Trump

Despite mounting controversies, his close supporters in the Capitol are sticking with him.

Rep. Chris Collins speaks to the crowd before the arrival of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the First Niagara Center on April 18 in Buffalo, N.Y.
AP Photo/John Minchillo
Alex Rogers
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Alex Rogers
June 8, 2016, 8 p.m.

After Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois be­came the first Re­pub­lic­an mem­ber of Con­gress to cut ties with Don­ald Trump over com­ments that a fed­er­al judge wasn’t qual­i­fied to do his job be­cause of his eth­ni­city, the ob­vi­ous ques­tion isn’t why the vul­ner­able blue-state in­cum­bent made his de­cision. It’s wheth­er more Re­pub­lic­ans will fol­low his lead.

Trump’s re­cord of ra­cist, big­oted, and miso­gyn­ist­ic state­ments is long and puts the GOP’s con­trol of the Sen­ate—and Kirk’s seat—in per­il. Trump’s policy pre­scrip­tions are vague but his sharp dis­agree­ments with or­tho­dox Re­pub­lic­ans on free trade, as well as en­ti­tle­ment and im­mig­ra­tion re­form, are well known. Re­cently, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham told The New York Times, “There’ll come a time when the love of coun­try will trump hatred of Hil­lary [Clin­ton].”

But that time hasn’t come yet, though the GOP mem­bers of Con­gress most loy­al to Trump have be­come ex­as­per­ated by him. Even House Speak­er Paul Ry­an, who said Trump’s com­ments on the judge were the “text­book defin­i­tion of ra­cism,” has made it clear that he’s not jump­ing off the ship.

For Trump’s earli­est sup­port­ers, mean­while, it’s un­likely that their al­le­gi­ances to him will ever break. Some rep­res­ent Trump-base dis­tricts with con­stitu­en­cies that are over­whelm­ingly white and eco­nom­ic­ally de­pressed. Some mem­bers them­selves seem per­son­ally like Trump—plain-spoken, un­will­ing to back down from con­tro­versy, and ready to take on even those in their own party. They ap­pre­ci­ate Trump’s out­sider im­age, re­spect his busi­ness acu­men, and, per­haps most im­port­antly, can’t stand Clin­ton.

“Here’s the dif­fer­ence,” said Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Chris Collins of New York, the first mem­ber to en­dorse Trump, com­par­ing him to Clin­ton. “Her flaws are char­ac­ter flaws. She may try, but she’s not go­ing to be able to fix the fact that Amer­ic­ans think she’s dis­hon­est, she’s not trust­worthy, she has bad judg­ment. I call those char­ac­ter flaws. Those are baked in. Don­ald Trump has some per­son­al­ity—what you would call per­son­al­ity neg­at­ives, and some policy neg­at­ives. Those can be fixed.”

Collins, who helps or­ches­trate a weekly strategy meet­ing for the Trump cam­paign and Cap­it­ol Hill sup­port­ers, doesn’t agree with Trump on some con­tro­ver­sial po­s­i­tions, such as the pro­posed tem­por­ary ban on Muslims. But he warns of Clin­ton con­trolling po­ten­tially mul­tiple Su­preme Court picks, provid­ing for “four dec­ades of a lib­er­al act­iv­ist Su­preme Court where you might as well erase the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Amend­ments.” While he un­der­stands that oth­ers aren’t as for­tu­nate to rep­res­ent “a crazy Trump dis­trict” where he says both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats were “dev­ast­ated” by the North Amer­ic­an Free Trade Agree­ment, his feel­ings against Clin­ton are so strong that he can’t un­der­stand the po­s­i­tion of anti-Trump Re­pub­lic­ans such as Kirk.

“He’s throw­ing his vote away, which is a vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton,” said Collins.

Of course, Collins and oth­er big Trump sup­port­ers have be­come frus­trated with their pre­sumptive nom­in­ee too. Neither Collins nor GOP Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, an­oth­er early en­dors­er, thinks that Trump’s state­ment was ra­cist, but they still want him to fo­cus on oth­er is­sues. “He has said he’s done talk­ing about the law­suit and the judges,” said Collins, hop­ing that the “an­noy­ing dis­trac­tion” had been abated by Trump’s state­ment Tues­day that he’s done talk­ing about his “mis­con­strued” po­s­i­tion. “Thank you. Thank you, Don­ald. Let’s stop talk­ing about the law­suit and judges.

“Today is the day to pivot to the gen­er­al,” Collins ad­ded.

In an in­ter­view Tues­day, when Marino was asked about the judge, the con­gress­man replied with his own ques­tion: “Do you know the mean­ing of ‘ra­cist’?”

“Look up the mean­ing of ‘ra­cist,’ OK,” Marino ad­ded. “And ac­cord­ing to three dif­fer­ent types of dic­tion­ar­ies I looked in,” he con­tin­ued be­fore chan­ging tacks. “Look, would I have said that? No.”

Later, Marino said that it wasn’t an is­sue, but that Trump should “stay more fo­cused” on what voters are con­cerned about, in­clud­ing jobs, se­cur­ing the bor­ders, and lower­ing taxes for the middle class.

“He said what he said, and that’s Don­ald Trump,” said Marino. “I’m not say­ing it’s right or it’s wrong. That’s it. I want Don­ald Trump in the White House, wheth­er he re­ferred to someone as a Mex­ic­an or an Itali­an. The people in my state—and what I’m hear­ing across the coun­try—they want some­body in there who has cre­ated jobs, not who’s un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion.”

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