GOP Washington establishment begins warming to Trump

Updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 29, 2016
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump  speaks to supporters and the media at Trump Towers following the conclusion of primaries Tuesday in northeastern states on April 26, 2016 in New York, New York. Trump again gained more delegates to move  him closer to the Republican presidential nomination.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters and the media at Trump Towers following the conclusion of primaries Tuesday in northeastern states on April 26, 2016 in New York, New York. Trump again gained more delegates to move him closer to the Republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

GOP lawmakers are making peace with Trump as likely nominee

"You don't need to despair," Sen. John Cornyn said

Washington CNN —  

In February, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn bluntly said that a Donald Trump nomination could be an “albatross” to his Republican Party.

Wednesday, with Trump barreling toward the GOP nomination, Cornyn was singing a different tune.

“I think he could change the electoral map in ways we haven’t seen before,” Cornyn said when asked if he was worried about the Trump impact down-ticket. “This disrupts the usual Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal paradigm, and I think we don’t know how this will all play out. I think it will be OK.”

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“You don’t need to despair,” the Texas Republican added with a laugh.

Cornyn isn’t alone. House and Senate Republicans are reluctantly coming to terms with the reality that the real estate mogul – a man many feared given his unpredictability, questionable policy positions and lack of discipline on the campaign trail – will likely be their party’s standard bearer. Rather than fight it, a number of Republicans say, it may be time to embrace it.

Opinion: Lesson of Trump’s big night: Don’t underestimate him

“Many of us who have expressed concerns are reconciling ourselves to the fact that in all likelihood he will be the eventual nominee,” said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who backs Sen. Ted Cruz for president.

Ted Cruz’s fellow lawmakers may decide his fate at an open GOP convention

After Trump delivered a foreign policy speech in Washington on Wednesday, some top Republicans were highly laudatory of the billionaire’s positions, including Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who called the speech “very thoughtful.”

Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a close ally of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, said with a chuckle that the fact that Trump scares some world leaders could be a good thing for the United States.

McConnell says he spoke ‘inartfully’ about GOP nomination going to second ballot

“I did say to my staff that is somewhat of a welcome change,” Corker said. “There is some good that comes with that.”

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Senate Republican, said Thursday he’d do “everything in my power” to help Trump if he’s the nominee.

“I think he can be great if he’ll get serious about being president – and I think he will,” Hatch said. “He’s a clever, smart guy who will want to be remembered for doing great things. I have a feeling he can make that transition.”

Behind the scenes, the Trump campaign is trying to broaden support on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, senior Trump adviser Paul Manafort continued the latest in a round of weekly outreach meetings, sitting down with roughly 16 House Republicans just steps from the Capitol. Afterward, Rep. Mike Kelly, who voted for Trump in Pennsylvania’s primary on Tuesday, said he has been hearing more favorable reviews of the businessman in recent days.

“I think on the floor, there’s a lot stronger support for Donald Trump then people possibly imagine,” Kelly said.

While many conservatives aren’t ready to publicly endorse Trump, some privately admit that they don’t want to criticize him and antagonize his supporters, whom they will need to turn out in November to retain control of Congress.

Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican who has endorsed Cruz, told reporters Wednesday that he’s sympathetic to the concerns about Washington voiced by Trump backers.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy: “America first”

“This is a way to give Congress and the Republican Party the middle finger,” Labrador, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of voting for Trump.

The comments reflect the hardening reality among Republicans on Capitol Hill that despite how unnerved many are about Trump, they realize they must recognize the will of GOP voters and get behind the businessman – or risk seeing Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, as the next president. Moreover, many Republicans frankly fear that a messy nominating convention could be far worse than choosing Trump as their nominee.

Donald Trump’s (short) road to the nomination

And also, a number of Senate Republicans simply refuse to support Cruz because they don’t think he has much of a chance to win the nomination and are irked at the way he’s treated his colleagues.

With Trump as their likely nominee, Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian Kentucky Republican, said many Republicans will need “counseling.”

“These folks should start enrolling today,” Massie said.

If Trump wins, ‘we get creamed’

Of course, many Republicans are still wary or downright opposed to Trump. And some patently fear that Trump would be romped by Clinton, costing the GOP the House and the Senate in the process.