Mildly Surprised

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Keep an eye on our Official TPM Trump Elected Official Endorsement Scoreboard next week as we continue to add new names to each of the five categories. I will say that I am mildly surprised at how many elected officials have essentially decided to sit out the election.

Here’s what I mean.

We have two key categories that, in my mind, essentially amount to sitting out the election: “supporting the nominee” and what we call “fuzzball”.

The first speaks for itself and I’m surprised how common the precise phrasing has ended up being. Members of Congress say they’re “supporting the nominee” but are unwilling even to say the man’s name. After all, as of a week ago, the nominee is Donald Trump. You know who the nominee is. You’re a Republican. So if you’re “supporting the nominee” of the Republican party, you’re supporting Donald Trump. Only you’re not even willing to say the guy’s name. It’s not going as far or being so confrontational as refusing to support Trump – which in normal circumstances is all but unheard of in modern politics. But it’s the absolute bare minimum, almost stated as a technical obligation or a syllogism – “supporting the nominee.”

“Fuzzball” is our catch-all phrase for all dodges, miscellaneous gibberish designed to get out of answering the question. The most common – finally taken up by House Speaker Paul Ryan himself, but only after many others – is some version of saying you will Trump if he makes certain changes or proves his merit in various ways. They want to hear Trump’s positions, see how he campaigns. Blah, blah, blah.

Sen. Susan Collins says she’ll support Trump if he stops making “gratuitous, personal insults.” Steve King says he’s giving Trump two and a half months to sell himself to Republicans. Gov. Susana Martinez says she wants to see Trump address the issues facing New Mexicans and then she’ll decide. Yada, yada, yada.

If nothing else we have a pretty clear sense of who Donald Trump is and what he believes. It’s another version of sitting it out and biding time.

Also notable is what unites those willing to genuinely get behind Trump’s candidacy, those willing to go ahead with the full-on endorsement. There’s a handful of backbench members of Congress. But beside those the real unifying characteristic isn’t so much ideology as just being a bit weird. Aside from a scattering of others like Jeff Sessions and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, you’ve got Chris Christie, Paul LePage, Rick Scott, Ron Johnson, Darrell Issa. There’s certainly a common denominator uniting those five guys. It’s a mix of businessmen termed politicians and people known for being aggressive and intemperate, often both qualities combined in a single person.

What it all amounts to is that the great bulk of elected officials (for these purposes we’re just including members of Congress and Governors) are not really willing to support Trump’s candidacy. At least not yet. I’ve been saying for months that Republicans were fooling themselves if they thought they could deny Trump the nomination if he was the clear winner of the primary process. For the moment, the collective decision of the GOP seems to be something like you won the nomination, now go see what you can do with it. My read is that all these folks besides the outright endorsers are bidding their time at least to the convention, hoping things clarify in some fashion or other options open up. The finality of the convention and formal nomination will make the yes or no question much harder to avoid.

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