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Analysis: Adjusting to Trump as Their Guy, One Republican at a Time

The developments of this one week have changed the essential description that distinguishes one Republican from another. In Donald Trump’s wake, the central question for officeholders, candidates and voters alike is whether they are going to support their apparent nominee. Their answers are mixed.

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The developments of this one week have changed the essential description that distinguishes one Republican from another.

In Donald Trump’s wake, the central question for officeholders, candidates and voters alike is whether they are going to support their apparent nominee.

For now, that has replaced the old divides between the establishment and the revolutionaries, between the chamber of commerce types and the Tea Partiers, between the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives.

Those differences remain, but they have been trumped.

Some folks have adapted quickly. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the presidential race last September with a scorching critique of the reality TV star, converted from apostate to apostle Thursday evening, endorsing Trump and saying he's "not going to say no" if asked to join the ticket as a vice presidential candidate.

That is a remarkable reversal of Perry's July 2015 appraisal of The Donald: "He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued."

Some pols moved even faster, if for lower stakes than a fantasy spot on a national ticket: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who campaigned across the country with and for Ted Cruz, came out for Trump within hours of Cruz’s capitulation this week.

“There are some who say that they could never vote for Donald Trump — in fact, I was one of those people early on in this presidential race,” Patrick wrote in a Wednesday TribTalk column. “But conservatives and Republicans unite around ideas and principles, and when we examine the ideas Hillary Clinton is putting forward, the choice for conservatives and any thinking American becomes clear.”

Others, like U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, weren’t so quick to come around. "I'm just not ready to do that at this point,” he said Thursday in an interview with CNN. “I'm not there right now."

“I think conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles?” Ryan said. “There’s a lot of questions conservatives are going to want answers to.”

It’s not like Republicans are going to suddenly jump onto the Clinton bandwagon. In many ways, she is exactly the candidate that Republicans — Texas Republicans, certainly — would like to see on the other side of this shootout.

The two living Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — both said through aides this week that they won’t be endorsing anyone, leading some to wonder whether presidents 41 and 43 are going to be supporting the spouse of 42 in the race to be the 45th president. Officially, they’re both neutral.

On his Facebook page Tuesday night, Gov. Greg Abbott posted a picture of Clinton overlaid with the hashtag #NeverHillary. On Twitter the next day, he indicated his agreement with the presumptive nominee on several issues: “Trump says secure border, end ObamaCare stop EPA & create jobs. Same as Texas.”

Then there is the Hell No! caucus, led for the moment by state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican who wants nothing to do with the developer from New York. “If Trump is the standard bearer of the party, then I am no longer a member,” he wrote this week. “Will I vote for a Democrat? Of course not. But I shall never stand with a bigoted, orange, buffoonish, ignorant ape as my representative.”

Cruz himself hasn’t raised his head into public view since he suspended his campaign after Tuesday’s Indiana primary. Whatever he says — for Trump or against him — will probably move some voters. His last comments about Trump — a vitriolic harangue that might as well have been written and performed on behalf of the Clinton campaign — probably gave some of his supporters reason to hesitate about switching to the winner.

“I'm going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump,” Cruz said. “This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies. He lies — practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”

He went on at length, but you get the idea. This reconciliation is going to take a while.

The Republican Party of Texas holds its biennial convention next week. What could have been a rally around the last remaining Texas candidate in the presidential race will instead be preparation for a national convention that is more coronation than contest. Instead of battling over delegates, the GOP will find out how happy the delegates are with their standard bearer.

It’s not like Republicans are going to suddenly jump onto the Clinton bandwagon. In many ways, she is exactly the candidate that Republicans — Texas Republicans, certainly — would like to see on the other side of this shootout.

But Trump wasn’t the first choice here, winning less than 27 percent of the primary vote in Texas while Cruz was winning just under 44 percent.

Those conservative voters will get to a general election where the choices include Clinton, a seasoned Democrat they love to hate; Trump, an inexperienced Republican many of them suspect is a political agnostic or perhaps even a liberal; and Gary Johnson, a Libertarian who served two terms as the Republican governor of New Mexico.  

Republicans have a common foe, but they are separated into three camps that overshadow their other differences: For Trump, against Trump, trying to decide, or Googling Gary Johnson on the internet.

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