The 2016 presidential race is already weird for several reasons, but one of the more striking oddities has been the trend on endorsements. In Republican politics, throughout the modern primary era, the candidate with the most support from members of Congress and governors wins the GOP nomination – without exception. This year, however, is putting this axiom to the test.
Donald Trump has dominated the Republican race for months, but as of last night, he had more wins than congressional supporters. In fact, Trump is the first modern GOP frontrunner to start winning nominating contests with literally zero backers from the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, or gubernatorial offices.
At the same time, however, the more Marco Rubio loses, the more Republican officials line up to support his candidacy.
It’s long been assumed that Trump would eventually pick up some support from someone in the party; it was just a question of who’d be the first to get on board. Today, as the Buffalo News reported, we found out.
Rep. Chris Collins, a mainstream Republican from Clarence, on Wednesday became the first sitting member of Congress to endorse bombastic billionaire Donald Trump for president.“Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that he has both the guts and the fortitude to return our nation’s jobs stolen by China, take on our enemies like ISIS, Iran, North Korea and Russia, and most importantly, reestablish the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to attain the American Dream,” Collins said in a statement released first to The Buffalo News. “That is why I am proud to endorse him as the next President of the United States.”
Collins, whose district includes Buffalo and Rochester suburbs, had been a Jeb Bush supporter.
And just as the political world was done looking at Chris Collins’ Wikipedia page, trying to remember who he is, Trump suddenly picked up another congressional endorsement. Politico reported:
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) told POLITICO on Wednesday that he will support Trump for the Republican nomination, making him one of the first members of Congress to express public support for the Manhattan businessman who is the prohibitive front-runner after his victory in Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses. […]In an interview on Wednesday, Hunter told POLITICO that Trump has the strength needed for the job. “We don’t need a policy wonk as president. We need a leader as president,” Hunter said, adding that he has told his colleagues much of the same thing. “I’m in, and I’ve been in,” he said in a telephone interview.
Hunter reportedly went on to say, “I don’t think Trump wants my endorsement. And that’s one reason why I like him.”
Much of the significance here is symbolic. No one is going to suggest support from two relatively low-profile House members will change the course of the presidential race in any meaningful way. As things stand, Trump is still trailing Rubio, Ted Cruz, and even John Kasich by wide margins in the endorsement race – a dynamic that’s unlikely to change in the immediate future.
But given Trump’s status at the front of the Republican pack, many observers were starting to wonder if he’d ever get a congressional endorsement, and just what it would take to get a leading GOP elected official to join his team. The answer, evidently, is three double-digit victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
Hunter added this morning, “I think you have more Trump supporters in Congress. They just have to come out of the closet, so to speak.”
Watch this space.