Over the last couple of weeks, the evidence of Republican insiders and the GOP's donor class moving towards Donald Trump has been hard to miss. Echoing a common sentiment, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who's spent nearly four decades on Capitol Hill, said last week, "I've come around a little bit on Trump. I'm not so sure we'd lose if he's our nominee."
Dana Milbank wrote the other day, "That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites -- what's left of the now-derided 'establishment' -- are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism."
But despite all of this recent evidence, Saturday brought an unexpected sight. The Washington Post reported:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign piqued the interest of political observers when a special guest appeared at an event Saturday here in Pella: Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Hawkeye State institution and a prominent Republican voice in Washington. [...] Grassley, a widely popular figure in Iowa who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate for decades, gave Trump a warm introduction and talked about the importance of electing a Republican to the White House.
Grassley could have chosen not to introduce Trump. He also could have limited his remarks to a generic welcome. But the long-time Iowa Republican instead went so far as to tell his audience, "We have an opportunity once again to make America great again."
It's important to note that the GOP senator did not offer his formal endorsement to Trump. In fact, Grassley won't officially support anyone in advance of next week's caucuses, and he's introduced other candidates during Iowa appearances.
That said, Grassley is a 41-year veteran of Capitol Hill; he's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and he's about as "establishment" a senator as you'll find in D.C. Not long ago, it would have been impossible to imagine him standing behind a Trump podium, repeating Trump's slogan as if he meant it.
And yet, here we are.
The Post's piece added that Grassley's role at the Trump campaign event "demonstrated the increasingly warm relationship between Trump and the Republican political establishment, which was initially stunned and disheartened by the flamboyant billionaire's enormous lead over other more establishment-friendly candidates."
The question I have is whether this helps or hurts as the campaign enters its next phase. It's easy to imagine Trump supporters, en masse, saying, "The establishment is moving closer to us, rather than expecting us to move closer to the establishment. This proves we're winning!" It's equally easy to imagine those same supporters saying, "If the establishment is warming up to Trump, maybe we're making a horrible mistake."
Look for Ted Cruz and his allies to make this latter point quite a bit over the next several days.