Trump brings risks, potential rewards to GOP ticket

Posted March 9, 2016

— When Donald Trump rolls into Fayetteville for a campaign event Wednesday evening, his audience will, more likely than not, be made up of people upset with the federal government and not terribly pleased with any particular incumbent.

"I think Washington and our state government and everybody has lost touch with what the people need," said Harlon Skimmiehorn, 52, of Fayetteville, who was one of the respondents to a WRAL News poll this week that showed Trump would likely capture about 41 percent of the vote.

Skimmiehorn says he's been disappointed with elected Republicans, including 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who he says have become part of a culture bent more on fundraising and scoring political points than solving problems.

"With Burr, you don't hear anything about what he's trying to do for anybody until it's election time," he said. "We need new people in there with new ideas to get us through this turmoil we're in with (the national debt)."

While calls for new blood are common among self-identified Trump voters, conservative thought leaders and Republican honchos are split on what that bodes for the party.

While some have decried the turn toward carnival sideshow and vulgarity the Republican nomination contest has occasionally taken โ€“ with the talk of how small a candidate's hands are as Exhibit A โ€“ others say the energy surrounding the contest has been good overall.

"With the caveat that the party is neutral on the race, I can say that Republican early voting numbers are surging astronomically," said Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina Republican Party's executive director. "I would say the excitement of the race is being embraced across the the state, and we think it's good for the Republican Party."

Others are less sanguine. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week found a party roiled by the prospect of a Trump nomination. Sixty-one percent of respondents to that survey said that "Trump represents something that is harmful to the Republican Party."

That could be unsettling for Republican incumbents such as Burr, Ellmers and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who are running for re-election arguing they have done a good job in office at the same time Trump is making the case that the existing federal government is completely broken.

"It's an inconsistency to say the least," said John Hood, an author and president of the John William Pope Foundation, which supports conservative nonprofits. "I think he's incapable of leading America, and anyone who watched his meandering speech last night should reflect on four years of that from a President Trump."

In addition to slamming his opponents and predicting victory, Trump rolled out some Trump-branded steaks and water to refute opponents claims that he was a bad businessman.

Hood, like other conservative leaders, makes the case that, while Trump is fomenting a particular vein of anger and populism within the Republican primary electorate, he is not someone whom the majority of Americans will back come November. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, called trump a "phony" last week, arguing that the business mogul does not have the temperament or resume to be president.

"He is a fundamentally dishonest person who says whatever he thinks is convenient at the time in order to make the sale," Hood said.

Trump addressed the question of whether he shares common values with other Republican candidates Tuesday night in Florida, saying that the Republican Party should embrace him as someone bringing new voters to the primaries.

"I'm not really changing the Republican Party because I'm actually a conservative, but I'm a common-sense conservative," he said.

Not all Trump voters are enthusiastic about his message or style.

"Supposedly the last four years we voted to change Congress and get the Republicans in there, and what have they done? Nothing," said Tom Caddy, 74, a retired State Bureau of Investigation agent and private security manager.

Caddy says Trump is the "only thing we Republicans have got left in the race, and I'm not very pleased with him."

Trump's biggest appeal? "He's not more of the same," Caddy said.

While some Republican incumbents have embraced Trump, others have taken something of a middle ground. For example, McCrory has said that he would support whomever the eventual Republican nominee might be. But he also took pains last week in an interview to make clear he wasn't weighing into the GOP presidential contest.

"I've got my own campaign, and I'm letting the presidential process go through the process it deserves," McCrory said.

Like McCrory, Burr has told media outlets such as The Charlotte Observer that he would support the eventual Republican nominee but that he wouldn't weigh in on the race.

Paul Shumaker, a GOP consultant working for the Burr campaign, said Republican leaders shouldn't worry so much about the fact Trump is a non-traditional candidate. He likened Trump to former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was courted by both political parties before his run for president not so much because of his policies but because of his massive name recognition.

"Trump is a personality candidate," Shumaker said. "That's why you see him transcending a lot of traditional voting groups."

Drawing new voters to the party, he said, would be helpful to all candidates.

Other GOP consultants agree.

"The one thing we've seen Trump do successfully is energize the Republican base," said Alfredo Rodriguez, a Republican media strategist based in Charlotte.

While Rodriguez is personally supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for the nomination, he said Trump has drawn attention to Republican policies and ideas, as well as tapped into a vein of dissatisfaction with status quo government.

"I think the party as a whole has been a little tone deaf to the growing frustration across America among Republican primary voters. It's been a long time coming," he said.

While national polling shows Trump struggling against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a projected general election matchup, Rodriguez said Trump and the other remaining GOP candidates would be well-positioned to take her on.

"I don't think there should be any narratives written that say, if Trump is nominated, the Republicans are going to fail in the fall," he said.

But Hood argues that the angry voters Trump is tapping won't necessarily translate into general election votes.

"He's just a statement of rage. That's enough to win Trump some votes in the primary, but it is utterly insufficient to build a majority in the fall," Hood said, arguing that, while all voters might be reasonably frustrated with Washington, D.C., most are not ready to embrace the vulgar bombast Trump brings.

That, in turn, he said would have consequences for other races. "He will act as a big, heavy ball-and-chain attached to the ankle of every Republican on the ballot."


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  • Robert Richardson Mar 10, 2016
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    Really hoping you're being sarcastic. Just hard to tell from comments sometimes.

  • Fred Blassy Mar 9, 2016
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    Say, do you know when my $2500 savings from Obamacare is coming? anyone?

  • Shannon Speil Mar 9, 2016
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    Please Mr. trump. Make America Great Again! ๐ŸŽ‰

  • Carol Smith Mar 9, 2016
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    trump cannot bring anything but embarrassment to this country. He is playing his supporters for suckers.

  • Tracy T. Dalrymple Mar 9, 2016
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    He is everything my husband and I raised our 2 sons NOT to be. I just don't get the support he is getting with all the venom he spews. The entire GOP race has been a dog and pony show. As the songs says, "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle."