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Republican Establishment Slowly Adjusts To Donald Trump's Rise


So far, Florida Senator Marco Rubio enjoys the most endorsements from members of Congress. But Republicans on Capitol Hill are coming around to the possibility that Donald Trump could be their nominee. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis joins us now to discuss how the Republican establishment is adjusting to Trump's rise. And, Susan, we're talking about adjusting. What does that look like?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, you know, from the beginning of this race, the talk within the Capitol was always that Trump would eventually fall. But as the governors slowly fell out of this race and as he's come off three wins in the early states, there is this real palpable shift in the conversation on the Hill this week. The best way I can explain it is it's like the stages of grief, but Republicans are in stages of Trump. On one end of the spectrum, you have a South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a senator who ran against Trump. And he's angry, and he's saying if Republicans don't stop Trump, he could break the party in two. Then I also talked to Congressmen like Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican - a House Republican from Illinois who still believes that Marco Rubio has a chance to win. And, you know, we've also seen the first signs this week of acceptance. Donald Trump had a bit of a milestone. He got his first two congressional endorsements. The first was from Chris Collins, he's a Republican from New York, also a successful businessman, and Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California who's seen as a defense hawk. And he said, you know, Trump has the leadership skills to be president. If Donald Trump does really well on Super Tuesday, you might see more congressional endorsements coming out behind him.

CORNISH: So how did the leadership say they would work with Donald Trump if he's the nominee?

DAVIS: House Speaker Paul Ryan gets asked this question a lot. Most recently, he was asked this morning. This is what he had to say.

PAUL RYAN: We'll cross these bridges when we get to it. But I do believe that we will be able to unify as a party. And I believe whoever our nominee's going to be, we'll be able to find a way to make a unified front work.

DAVIS: But remember Ryan is on this long list of Republicans that Trump has ridiculed. He publicly blamed Paul Ryan for Mitt Romney's 2012 loss. As you remember, Paul Ryan was his running mate. Trump said it was Ryan's proposals on Medicare that cost Republicans that election. Trump disagrees with Paul Ryan on trade, on taxes, on entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. But, you know, when we pushed Ryan today, he said not all Republicans have to have the exact same ideas, and whoever the nominee is, they'll make it work. Now, Republicans in the House are working on their own policy agenda that they say they're going to roll out this fall, and that's what they're going to run on no matter who the nominee is.

CORNISH: Run on, that's really the important thing, right? Election time...

DAVIS: Exactly.

CORNISH: What does the name Donald Trump at the top of a ticket do for Republicans in congressional races?

DAVIS: So it could help Democrats. Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and the Senate has been in play. It will be in play no matter what. But the House has not been competitive for Democrats. They would need a massive wave to win the 30 seats they'd need for a takeover in the house. I talked to a top Democrat this morning that said, cautiously, Trump could be that seismic force that puts more House seats into play. What does that mean? It means that Republicans running in the swing, middle-of-the-road seats that might not always be competitive are suddenly competitive with a really volatile candidate at the top. But as of right now, Republicans are in firm control of the House, and it's not yet in question this fall.

CORNISH: Susan Davis covers Congress for NPR. Susan, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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