Now that it appears that the Republican presidential primary may boil down to a choice between Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), terrified Republicans have started to openly state that they would have to support Trump over the Texas senator, arguing that Trump’s nomination would damage the party less.
Bob Dole, former senator and Republican presidential nominee, told the New York Times this week that he would prefer Trump because Cruz’s nomination would result in “wholesale losses in Congress and state offices and governors and legislatures.” Dole said that “nobody” likes Cruz and that Trump “has toned down his rhetoric.”
And when asked to choose between the two potential nominees, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), told The Atlantic’s Molly Ball that he would choose Trump.
Welp, Trent Lott just told me he’d take Trump over Cruz if he had to choose.
— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) January 21, 2016
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told CNN that he doesn’t believe Cruz could win the general election.
“I think we’ll lose if he’s our nominee,” Hatch said.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t feel he can appeal to people across the board,” he continued. “For us to win, we have to appeal the moderates and independents. We can’t just act like that only one point of view is the only way to go. That’s where Ted is going to have some trouble.”
The senator said that Trump might have better chance in winning over voters in the long run.
“I’ve come around a little bit on Trump,” Hatch said. “I’m not so sure we’d lose if he’s our nominee because he’s appealing to people who a lot of the Republican candidates have not appealed to in the past.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) told reporters that he believes Cruz’s nomination would be “damaging,” specifically to the ethanol industry, but he did not voice a preference for Trump.
Numerous Republican strategists have also voiced concern about Cruz’s nomination, arguing that Trump would be easier to work with.
“We can live with Trump,” Richard Hohlt, a Republican lobbyist, told the New York Times. “Do they all love Trump? No. But there’s a feeling that he is not going to layer over the party or install his own person. Whereas Cruz will have his own people there.”
Charles Black, a lobbyist and former Republican campaign operative, echoed Hohlt’s comments in an interview with the New York Times. Black said that if Cruz wins the nomination, “what would happen is a lot of the elected leaders and party elders would try to sit down and try to help Cruz run a better campaign, but he may not listen.”
“Trump is another matter. You can coach Donald. If he got nominated he’d be scared to death,” Black said. “That’s the point he would call people in the party and say, ‘I just want to talk to you.'”
John Feehery, a pundit and former GOP Congressional aide, told the Times that a Cruz nomination could hurt the Republican party.
“Trump won’t do long-lasting damage to the GOP coalition,” he said. “Cruz will.”
Republican strategist Craig Shirley told the Huffington Post that many in Washington simply don’t like Cruz enough to support him.
“Cruz has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in D.C., whereas Trump hasn’t, and Trump up until this year was pretty much a player,” Shirley said. “Ultimately, the Washington establishment deep down — although they find Trump tacky or distasteful — they think that they ultimately can work with him. Deep down, a lot of people think it is an act.”
Correction: This article originally stated that Orrin Hatch is a senator from Nevada. He represents Utah.