In a normal election year, the Republican governor of Illinois saying he would support the GOP nominee for president of the United States, no matter who it is, would be shrugged off in the category of: “What else would he say?”
The strong possibility of Donald Trump being the Republican standard-bearer in 2016 has changed that dynamic. GOP leaders across the country are carefully weighing the possible fallout from his candidacy — with some deeming him too radioactive for even an arm’s length embrace.
Yet there was Bruce Rauner on Monday paying the customary lip service to supporting the party’s nominee, even if it’s Trump.
Asked by reporters whether he would support Trump, Rauner answered: “I will support the Republican Party’s nominee for president. I’ll do everything I can to work with that nominee.”
He said it without enthusiasm — and without allowing Trump’s name to pass from his lips.
But he repeated himself when asked again whether that included Trump, from which we can deduce that he had given some thought in advance to what he wanted to say — and wasn’t afraid to send the message that he would be OK with a President Trump.
Although Rauner noted the process was still playing out, he didn’t raise the prospect of a brokered Republican National Convention that some see as the last chance to block Trump from the nomination.
Nor did he mention what role he might hope to play in such a convention as the self-declared “leader of the Republican Party in Illinois.”
Neither did he take the opportunity to distance himself from any of Trump’s comments or positions or to speak up about him in any way whatsoever.
Rauner’s remarks came just a week after Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., also said that he would support Trump for president, if he wins the nomination.
And in response to an inquiry Tuesday about Trump, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin also released a statement saying he “will support the nominee upon ratification by the delegates at the RNC.”
I gather from this that to at least some limited extent the state’s Republican elected officials have put their heads together and adopted this as the party line — calculating that it’s more important to keep Trump supporters within the GOP than to risk alienating those who find him poisonous.
Illinois Democrats have made a different calculation, issuing demands that Rauner and Kirk renounce Trump and his movement.
Notably, the Illinois GOP pledging its allegiance to Trump comes at a time when Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts have already made it known that they won’t vote for Trump.
Both said they’ll look for a candidate outside the Republican and Democratic parties if Trump is the nominee.
I know for a fact that Illinois GOP leaders have been dreading since last year the possibility of a Trump nomination and the detrimental effect it might have on their efforts down the ballot — in particular Rauner’s hopes of clawing back state legislative seats from Democrats and keeping his appointee Leslie Munger as state comptroller.
“It certainly makes it more difficult,” former state Republican chairman Pat Brady said Monday of the prospect of a Republican ticket led by Trump.
But Brady, a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the GOP nomination, wasn’t ready to concede anything to Trump.
“We’re a long way from Trump being the nominee,” he cautioned, mentioning the possibility of a brokered convention and the large sections of the electorate that Trump has alienated.
Rather than speak out about Trump, Rauner says that if Trump is the nominee, he’ll do everything he can for him.
If he does, I can only hope that Illinois voters make him pay a price for it.