In general, swing-district Republicans have laid low on Trump, and Florida-based GOP consultant Rick Wilson, who recently launched an anti-Trump super PAC called Make America Awesome, said that’s probably a good idea.
“Can you blame them? It’s a distasteful subject. It’s Donald Trump, for Christ’s sake,” he said, adding that if he worked or any of these candidates he would “walk them around” the question of whether they would support Trump as the nominee, shifting the focus toward whomever they support in the primaries.
While Hardy stands with Trump more than other swing-district Republicans, and certainly more than Curbelo and Dold, his own language about sensitive policy issues sounds more like that of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Hardy represents a district in which non-Hispanic whites constitute just 48 percent of the population, and where Obama won with 54 percent of the vote in 2012.
In an interview with National Journal, Hardy walked the fine line down-ballot Republicans face when discussing Trump. He called for immigration laws that address undocumented immigrants “in a compassionate manner, that protects the family unit, the individuals that [have] tried to be a good individual in the country that maybe didn’t come here in the right way.”
He also touted a Hispanic Heritage Summit he hosted in October in conjunction with the Latin Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. And after Trump called to block Muslims from entering the U.S., Hardy released a statement saying the proposal “would disgrace some of our deepest held values, including freedom of religion.”
Still, Hardy and many other Republicans have been careful to distance themselves from Trump while embracing the concerns of Trump’s supporters.
“His tone doesn’t bother me,” Hardy said, “because I believe that these are concerns people have. He’s speaking the truth. He’s touching base with so many people on their concerns.”
Hardy isn’t the only one threading that needle. Rep. David Jolly, who is running for Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in Florida, quickly called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race after he suggested barring all Muslims from entering the U.S. Since pushing back, Jolly has painted himself as a Trump-like straight-talker.
“The safe course politically, as you see from everybody else, is to say nothing," Jolly told National Journal. "I joke that Trump and I actually have something in common: We both call it like we see it and we’re not afraid to speak our minds.” The congressman sent a fundraising email using similar language.
Jolly added that Trump’s popularity “represents the deep frustration of the American people, and I think all candidates should recognize that.”
Despite claiming to call it as he sees it, Jolly would not say whether he would support Trump as the nominee. “I’m not expecting Trump to be the nominee. So ask me after the convention,” he said, adding that he supports Jeb Bush in the primaries.
The electoral consequences of a Trump nomination, Jolly acknowledged, would be bad: Democrats would win the White House and Senate, and Republicans’ House majority would be threatened. But Jolly is holding out hope Trump could be reformed.
“If he is our nominee," Jolly said, "maybe he will recognize that he needs to be a leader that unites the country, and not [who] seeks to get elected by dividing a party and dividing a country.”