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Donald Trump’s Shadow Looms Over Florida and Arizona Primary Races Today

 

His name may not be on the ballots in Florida and Arizona today, but Donald Trump’s shadow still looms over two Republican Senators facing primary challenges.

Both Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio have said they will vote for Trump for President, despite criticizing some of his past comments. And, both have said they will still vote for Trump for President despite his personal — and oftentimes despicable — attacks on them.

Over a year ago, Trump insulted McCain’s military service during the Vietnam War, saying McCain was “not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

“Mr. McCain, a naval aviator, was shot down during the Vietnam War and held prisoner for more than five years in Hanoi, refusing early release even after being repeatedly beaten,” notes the New York Times. 

While Republican leaders like Senator Lindsey Graham immediately condemned the remarks, McCain did not say he would refuse to support Trump were he to eventually become the Republican nominee.

Over a year later, Trump again set his sights on members of the US military, this time attacking the Gold Star parents of Captain Humayun Khan — killed in action in Iraq in 2004 — after they spoke at the Democratic National Convention this summer.

In the ensuing days, nearly three dozen prominent Republican leaders — including Maine Senator Susan Collins — publicly announced they could not support Trump for President, with some expressing support for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

McCain, however, was not among them.

In Florida, Trump’s attacks on Rubio instead wandered into playground territory, with Trump repeatedly mocking him as “Little Marco” during the Republican Presidential primary. Rubio slammed him a “con man” and “wholly unprepared to be President of the United States.” Yet like McCain, Rubio is still supporting him for President.

Over at the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar take a deeper look at why McCain and Rubio both refuse to cut ties with Trump in favor of their own political gain:

Tues­day’s primar­ies in Flor­ida and Ari­zona will of­fer clar­ity on how large Trump’s base really is, and wheth­er Sens. Marco Ru­bio and John Mc­Cain have been stra­tegic­ally smart in main­tain­ing their sup­port for Trump even as the GOP’s pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee con­tin­ues to crater in polls. Ru­bio and Mc­Cain are ex­pec­ted to win, even though they’re fa­cing primary chal­lengers who closely align them­selves with Trump and are ac­cus­ing their op­pon­ents of be­ing part of the dreaded es­tab­lish­ment. Both sen­at­ors are also fa­cing very com­pet­it­ive gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paigns, and their loy­alty to Trump could cost them cru­cial sup­port from His­pan­ics and in­de­pend­ent voters.

Ru­bio and Mc­Cain have twis­ted them­selves in­to pret­zels to pro­tect against a Trump-fueled back­lash. After be­ing his lead­ing crit­ic dur­ing the pres­id­en­tial primar­ies, Ru­bio has con­stantly re­cal­ib­rated his rhet­or­ic on Trump as a Sen­ate can­did­ate, try­ing to win over his former op­pon­ent’s myri­ad sup­port­ers in Flor­ida while not ali­en­at­ing his de­tract­ors. In turn, Trump offered pub­lic en­cour­age­ment on Twit­ter for Ru­bio to run for reelec­tion. After de­cid­ing to run for a second term, Ru­bio said he would be honored to help Trump, offered to speak at the con­ven­tion be­fore back­track­ing, later taped a video merely con­grat­u­lat­ing the GOP tick­et, and has main­tained luke­warm sup­port for Trump with the ar­gu­ment that he’s bet­ter than Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Ru­bio has le­git­im­ate reas­ons to be con­cerned about the scope of Trump’s sup­port. Trump crushed him in his home state by 19 points, los­ing only one county (Miami-Dade) in the en­tire state. Ru­bio’s wealthy primary op­pon­ent, de­veloper Car­los Beruff, has been por­tray­ing him­self as a Trump clone. Beruff has spent about $3 mil­lion of his own money at­tack­ing Ru­bio as an es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­an who lost touch with the state. One of his ads tries to define the Sen­ate primary as a proxy for the pres­id­en­tial primar­ies. “We need a sen­at­or from Flor­ida who sup­ports Don­ald Trump and wants to se­cure our bor­ders. … Marco Ru­bio is too tim­id to try to help Trump de­feat Hil­lary Clin­ton. Car­los Beruff will proudly stand up for Don­ald Trump,” the ad says.

But if there really were a huge, Trump-at-all-costs con­stitu­ency, Beruff should be get­ting some more trac­tion. Re­pub­lic­an strategists in­volved in the race ex­pect Ru­bio to win the primary com­fort­ably, with around 65 per­cent of the GOP vote. If that’s the case, was it worth pan­der­ing to Trump’s sup­port­ers at the ex­pense of pos­sible swing voters in Novem­ber?

“This is more out of con­cern in a primary, where base voters aren’t fond of Trump but are so un­happy with the pro­spect of a Clin­ton pres­id­ency that they’d take it per­son­ally if a Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent re­pu­di­ated Trump,” said one GOP poll­ster in­volved in battle­ground Sen­ate races. (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for in­stance, saw his ap­prov­al rat­ing with Re­pub­lic­ans nose­dive after pub­licly de­clin­ing to en­dorse Trump at the GOP con­ven­tion.)

Mc­Cain, who has long ant­ag­on­ized the con­ser­vat­ive base in Ari­zona, has an even more dif­fi­cult needle to thread. His cam­paign has spent in­or­din­ate time mar­gin­al­iz­ing his arch-con­ser­vat­ive GOP op­pon­ent, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and is ex­pec­ted to win his primary com­fort­ably. But even his al­lies don’t ex­pect him to win much more than 50 per­cent of the vote in a three-per­son primary. He’s been com­pelled to of­fer a de facto en­dorse­ment of Trump des­pite the hos­til­ity Trump has dir­ec­ted his way.

Rep. Ann Kirk­patrick, Mc­Cain’s Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, has been us­ing ads to ex­ploit Mc­Cain’s awk­ward re­la­tion­ship with Trump. She’s bet­ting that by pan­der­ing to Trump sup­port­ers, Mc­Cain is hurt­ing his stand­ing with His­pan­ics and in­de­pend­ents, two con­stitu­en­cies with which he runs well ahead of the av­er­age Re­pub­lic­an. The fact that Clin­ton is run­ning com­pet­it­ively with Trump in Ari­zona only un­der­scores Mc­Cain’s gen­er­al-elec­tion risk in pan­der­ing to Trump and his base.