An NPR reporter asked John McCain on Monday if he’s serious about supporting Donald Trump if he wins the Republican presidential nomination. “I said I support the nominee,” McCain replied. When the reporter asked if that generic principle applies to Trump, the Arizona senator got agitated.
After an exasperated sigh, McCain told NPR, in the most annoyed tone possible, “Hello? I said I. Support. The. Nominee!”
If McCain is irritated by this line of questioning now, he should brace himself for months of additional aggravation. The New York Times reported this week:
If Republicans are worried about a Donald J. Trump presidential nomination damaging the party down the ballot in November, Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, the Arizona Democratic who is challenging Senator John McCain, is offering a prime example of why they should be.With Mr. Trump leading his Republican rivals in the race for delegates, Ms. Kirkpatrick unveiled an advertisement on Monday that hammers Mr. McCain for his promise to support the eventual Republican nominee – even if it is Mr. Trump.
The minute-long ad is available online here. Note, it juxtaposes some of Trump’s offensive rhetoric – including his rhetorical shots at McCain – with the senator’s vow to support his party’s nominee, no matter who it is.
A spokesperson for the McCain campaign called the ad a “cheap, pathetic display,” but I have no idea why. This is hardly out of bounds. If McCain is prepared to support his party’s nominee, even if it’s Donald Trump, the senator can’t seriously expect to declare the subject off-limits to scrutiny.
The broader concern for Republicans, however, is that McCain won’t be the only one.
As best as I can tell, Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick is the first – and to date, only – Democrat to release an ad blasting a GOP rival over his Trump support. That said, there’s ample evidence to suggest Dems and their allies are eager to push this line of criticism in the months ahead.
The American Bridge super PAC, for example, released a minute-long video yesterday making the case that there is “zero daylight” between Trump and Senate Republicans. The video included excerpts with quotes from GOP incumbents and one GOP House member who’s running for the Senate.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, released a statement yesterday quoting 11 Senate Republican candidates – 7 incumbents and 4 Senate hopefuls – praising Trump, vowing to support Trump, or both.
To be sure, some of this is a bit premature. Trump is favored to win the GOP nomination, but it’s not yet wrapped up.
At least for now, however, Democrats and their allies see an opportunity to use Trump against Senate GOP candidates, and this week was the first shot across the bow. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly has a plan to drop Trump “like a hot rock” if he starts hurting Senate Republicans’ chances, but since McConnell doesn’t have a time machine, and many of his members have already addressed the subject on the record, it may be too late.