If Trump Is Nominated, Should Conservatives Back Him?

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Conservative Senator Ben Sasse says he will never vote for Trump

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Just months ago, most experts viewed Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican primary as a near impossibility. Now, Trump has built up a huge support base and routed his opponents in most of the early states. What was once seen as an impossibility, in other words, looks increasingly like an inevitability.

Trump’s dramatic rise has dismayed many conservatives who believe the real estate mogul does not represent the GOP’s traditional, small-government values. Some, including Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, have vowed not to support Trump if he wins the Republican nomination. If the reality television star is nominated, Sasse would look for a “third option” to avoid choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton, who is highly likely to be the Democratic candidate.

“My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option,” Sasse wrote on Facebook. In the post, the senator claims to have the fourth-most conservative record of any senator.

Sasse, who accuses Trump of executing a “hostile takeover” of the divided Republican Party, believes it is evident that the real estate mogul is neither a conservative nor a Constitutionalist. Trump has threatened to “open up libel laws”, for instance, in order to make the media more vulnerable to lawsuits. The real estate mogul has also said he might close down parts of the internet, in order to protect national security. According to Sasse, these comments show Trump’s willingness to infringe on perhaps the most important of constitutional rights: the freedom of speech.

In addition to alleged hostility toward the First Amendment, Sasse views Trump’s record on other conservative issues as highly dubious. Trump, who now claims to be a staunch conservative, has gone on the record in years past in favor of abortion rights and stricter gun laws. To this day, Trump is for tax increases on the rich, and he believes government should fund healthcare, which opponents say is proof of his leftism and support for big government.

Apart from specific issues, Sasse sees Trump’s overall attitude toward the presidency as troubling. The senator notes Trump’s praise for Russia’s current leadership and the frequency with which he uses the word “reign” to describe a president’s role.

Finally, Sasse has been highly critical of Trump’s apparent wavering over whether to reject support from the Ku Klux Klan and its former Grand Wizard, David Duke. If people like Duke come to have a voice within the Republican Party under Trump, Sasse says he would leave the GOP altogether.

“I hope it happens over the course of the next 30 to 60 days that the Republican Party again becomes the party of Abraham Lincoln, limited government and great human potential,” Sasse said. “I want to celebrate what’s great about America in the Republican Party, but if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke, Donald Trump, I’m out.”

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  • Conservative Senator Ben Sasse says he will never vote for Trump
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Conservative Senator Jeff Sessions believes Trump will fight for America

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While many conservative leaders are fighting tooth and nail against Donald Trump’s nomination, others have come around to the idea. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, after abandoning his own failed campaign, was the first major, active Republican to get behind the controversial frontrunner. Now, multiple GOP leaders have endorsed Trump, including Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who is considered one of the most conservative members of Congress.

“I am pleased to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States,” Sessions said to a raucous crowd at a Trump rally in Alabama over the weekend. Sessions’ name has frequently been dropped in the GOP primary, mostly by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of Trump’s strongest rivals. The Alabama senator has been a leader in legislative fights for tougher border laws, and Cruz has touted their cooperation on an important effort against amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Sessions endorsement undermined arguments in some conservative journals that politicians supporting Trump were opportunists, with some being compared to “rats” and “prostitutes”. It also reflected the opinion of many right-wingers that Trump is the best candidate to deal with illegal immigration.

Sessions’ endorsement speech lauded Trump as the head of a movement that rejects ineffective politicians. The senator noted that, unlike other candidates, Trump has refused money from big donors and is mostly self-funded. To Sessions, this is evidence that Trump actually cares about major issues like immigration and isn’t merely using them to gain power for himself or lobbyist supporters.

Immigration is not the only issue on which Sessions based his endorsement of Trump, however. Sessions also pointed to Trump’s positions on trade, which have contributed to his appeal with working-class voters. Trump has promised to fix America’s international trade relations, in order to better serve US workers. Sessions, in his speech, cited Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the Obama administration’s signature trade deals. The TPP would eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers with many countries in the Asia-Pacific, but Trump, Sessions, and many other conservatives argue that it would undermine US sovereignty and lead to more jobs going overseas.

Sessions hopes Trump will seal the GOP nomination and go on to win the presidency. This, the senator says, would be a major opportunity for a grassroots movement of conservatives to succeed.

“I told Donald Trump this isn’t a campaign, this is a movement …” Sessions said at the rally. “We are in a movement that must not fade away.”

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Conservative Governor Nikki Haley argues GOP unity is needed, regardless of who wins the primary

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Donald Trump has many enemies in the Republican Party, but, if the real estate mogul becomes the GOP nominee, he might be able to count on their support in the general election. For instance, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has been a victim of Trump’s insults, has said she would vote for him against Hillary Clinton, who is expected to be the Democratic candidate.

“We’ve said that we would support the nominee if they get the nomination,” Haley said last week.

Haley, who is supporting Florida Senator Marco Rubio, is one of Trump’s most prominent opponents in the GOP. The governor famously criticized Trump in her State of the Union response earlier this year, admonishing Republican voters to resist “the siren of the angriest voices.” She has also voiced alarm at fellow GOP leaders who have endorsed Trump in the primary. Nonetheless, like many of her fellow conservatives, Haley believes Republicans must unite behind the party’s nominee, whoever it may be, to defeat Clinton.

If a conservative runs as a third-party candidate in the general election, it would likely divide right-wing voters and could all but guarantee victory for Clinton, who is already leading Trump (but not Rubio or Texas Senator Ted Cruz) in head-to-head polls. For Haley and other GOP leaders, this would be a highly undesirable scenario, even worse than the election of Trump, a Republican viewed by Haley as a demagogue with questionable conservative credentials.

Haley has said she disagrees with every Clinton policy. The former first lady, for example, is promising to be even more accommodating on immigration than is President Obama, who has angered Republicans with executive orders that offer amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Clinton has also touted stricter gun laws, greater abortion rights, and vowed to grow Obamacare beyond its current capacity. On foreign policy, the former secretary of state is supportive of the nuclear agreement with Iran, loathed by GOP members, including Trump.

Even if Republican leadership lines up behind Trump as the nominee, however, Haley is skeptical that he can win the general election. While Trump has a passionate base of supporters, much of the country finds him unpalatable, including around 80% of Hispanics, according to some polls. If Trump wins the GOP primary, therefore, it might be political suicide for the party.

“If it comes down to Trump,” Haley said, “we don’t know if he could win a general, and that’s a big concern.”

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  • Conservative Governor Nikki Haley argues GOP unity is needed, regardless of who wins the primary
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