By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Ever have a co-defendant that you didn't quite want to oppose and didn't quite want to embrace either? A good portion of the Grand Ole Party seems to be having the same problem right now. While the newly-minted Trump wing of the party celebrates the candidate's ascension to the 2016 GOP nomination, many more traditionally-minded Republicans are finding themselves in a tough spot. After last week’s Indiana primary left Donald Trump as the last candidate standing and the presumptive standard bearer for the Republican party, officeholders and other opinion leaders across the party have faced the choice of whether and how to reconcile themselves to that fact. This campaign has proven (over and over again) that anything can happen, but the realities of the polls and the electoral map have stoked fears of not only a loss in the presidential race, but losses down the ballot for Republican House and Senate candidates based on historically high unfavorability ratings, particularly by women, Hispanics, and other minorities. That uphill climb has led some to try to put some distance between themselves and the candidate. Some in the establishment are straight-out saying that they cannot support Trump. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, shared "I think Donald Trump is going to places where very few people have gone and I'm not going with him." Jeb Bush, who is joined by his brother and father in withholding support, also agreed that Trump had not demonstrated the “temperament or strength of character” to qualify for the presidency.
Others, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, have simply written off their earlier statements (e.g., Perry called Trump a “barking carnival act,” and a “cancer on conservatism”) in order to flip the switch to endorsement. Most, however, seem to want to explore, at least for now, the broad gray area between opposition and embrace. The most common line has been the reiterated, “As I’ve said before, I will support whoever wins the nomination,” without mentioning Trump or acknowledging the fact that the nominee will now be no one but Trump. Others have been less supportive (like House Speaker Paul Ryan who is "just not ready" to support Trump as the nominee), or more equivocal (like New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte who “supports” but does not “endorse” Trump).