The conservative wing of the House GOP has not made up its mind about Donald Trump, and continues to be divided on the controversial presumptive GOP candidate.
On “Fox News Sunday” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) stated that Trump needs to better discipline his behavior and act more like a leader: “He’s vulgar, he’s crass. The best thing about Donald Trump Today is he’s not Hillary Clinton. But he’s certainly not a conservative, either. It’s not just me. I think there are millions of soccer moms, football dads, baseball dads across America … and they have a presidential candidate who is demeaning the women. I have a 9-year-old and he can’t even listen to the guy on television.” Huelskamp also expressed serious concern over Trump’s notorious flip flopping, as well as Trump’s disturbingly liberal past (and sometimes present) positions on major issues: “He is all over on all the issues. Here is the guy who suggested he was going to appoint his pro-abortion sister to the U.S. Supreme Court.” Huelskamp also was concerned over Trump’s positions on taxes, border security, trade, and the transgender-bathroom questions, on many of which Trump’s statements increasingly sound like Hillary Clinton’s. Huelskamp, however, did state that Trump was still a better choice than Clinton, but re-iterated that Trump must clean up his act and make “clear, consistent changes.”
Huelskamp is hardly alone in his sentiments, with many in the House GOP tepid at best towards Trump, and many openly hostile. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) reflected this lack of enthusiasm when he stated that he wasn’t ready to support Trump yet on May 5th. After meeting with Trump the next week, Ryan expressed hope that they could “unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda and do all we can to win this fall.”
However, Ryan came short of actually endorsing Trump, which may reflect Ryan’s conflicting pressures from the Republican National Committee (RNC) establishment (which has fallen in behind Trump) and the House conservatives. Ryan himself was elevated to Speaker primarily due to conservative annoyance at Boehner‘s perceived failures to act sufficiently conservative, or to stand up firmly to President Obama’s agenda.
Other Republicans have fallen in more solidly with the RNC’s line. Former Speaker Newt Gengrich, who was debating Huelskamp on “Fox News Sunday,” came out emphatically in favor of Trump, saying that Trump was “not a traditional conservative. He has never claimed to be, but he has said that he will nominate very conservative judges.” Gengrich also pressed the often-used line trying to equate a lack of support with Trump to de facto support of Clinton: “The question that Congressman Huelskamp and others have to ask themselves is real simple … Are we really prepared to say that Trump is more dangerous than Hillary Clinton? Because if he’s not more dangerous than Hillary Clinton for any rational conservative, then he is dramatically safer as a vote.”
In spite of such rhetoric, many conservatives are convinced Trump would do serious and potentially fatal long term damage to the Republican brand. The House GOP in particular is known for its independence from the RNC line, and flexed its muscle by deposing establishment favorite Boehner in favor of Ryan. It is not likely to bend to the RNC’s wishes anytime soon, even if Ryan himself ends up endorsing Trump.