Republicans can’t separate themselves from Trump now — even if they want to

Marc Molinaro is the exact type of Republican who should be trying to distance himself from Donald Trump. The Cook Political Report rates his race as a toss-up, and his district — New York’s 19th — voted for President Joe Biden in 2020.

Under typical circumstances, endangered incumbents hope to create some distance from a nominee who may drag them down. Joe Manchin, the now-retiring independent senator who won in coal-friendly West Virginia, famously shot an Obama-era climate bill with a rifle despite being a Democrat. And before she put herself in the running to be Trump’s running mate, Representative Elise Stefanik voted against the Trump tax cuts.

Yet Molinaro, a freshman Republican, joined his colleagues in heading over to the Capitol Hill Club on Thursday morning to hear the former president rally the troops.

Molinaro told The Independent that his district voted for Trump in 2016, which is true, and tried to position himself as independent.

“I am exceptionally tied to the people that I represent,” he said. “So if President Trump's going to deliver to make it easier for the people of upstate New York, then that will be better than what they've been experiencing these last four years.”

In the past, Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina rebuked Trump for inciting a riot on Capitol Hill three days after she was sworn in for her freshman term. She told The Independent last year, after the Dobbs v Jackson case that killed Roe v Wade, “We're not going to win hearts and minds over by being a**holes to women.”

But on Thursday, just two days after she won a primary thanks to Trump’s support, she said that the former president had abortion figured out.

“He talked about exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother,” she said. “He talked about, ‘it's in the people's hands now, and that we have to speak about abortion correctly,’ which is a message that the party needs to hear.”

Republicans would not need to worry about going on defense when it comes to abortion rights had it not been for the three Supreme Court justices that Trump nominated and Mitch McConnell confirmed. Indeed, McConnell said that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of” January 6. Yet he, too, kissed the ring when he met with Trump recently — despite the fact he will no longer be leader at the end of this term.

Now, Republicans might not have any choice but to embrace Trump. Their base will raise hell if they distance themselves from him — and there is little chance they could create distance unless they voted to convict him.

Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Senator from Alaska who voted to convict the former president in 2021, told The Independent that instead of meeting Trump with her colleagues, “I had lunch.”

“I think there was this obvious interest in knowing what Trump might want to lay out as part of his campaign,” she told The Independent, when asked about why so many other Republicans attended. Murkowski — like Susan Collins of Maine, who also did not attend Trump’s speech — hails from a state with ranked-choice voting, meaning she does not need to cater to the most conservative voters.

Democrats for their part could not wait to tie congressional Republicans with Trump, knowing that his guilty verdict last month in New York has moved the needle with voters, even if only a tiny bit. Biden’s campaign put out statements from luminaries of the January 6 select committee such as its chairman Bennie Thompson and Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, who led the second impeachment trial in the Senate.

When news reports leaked that Trump reportedly called Milwaukee, where the Republicans will hold their national convention, “horrible,” Republicans offered weak sauce arguments. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin relished in the disarray.

“Milwaukee makes the greatest beer, the greatest brats, the greatest motorcycles. Hardworking people. Don’t mess with Milwaukee,” she said.

Democrats also used the day to further tie Republicans to Trump by having a vote to protect in vitro fertilization (IVF.) Alabama’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in February that cited Dobbs and classified frozen embryos as children under state law. That would have ended IVF.

Democrats brought a bill to protect the fertility treatment on Thursday — but Republicans blocked the legislation.

Senator Ted Cruz accused Democrats of politicizing the bill, citing the fact that he and Senator Katie Britt of Alabama had crafted their own bill.

“What they want to do is scare the voters in November and pretend that the big bad Republicans want to take away IVF,” he told The Independent.

Despite the fact that Trump summarily humiliated him — and despite the fact that the suburbs of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio that Cruz will need to win in November have moved away from the GOP — he also said he thought Trump would have a positive down-ballot effect.

While Cruz was talking, Senator Gary Peters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman who is responsible for challenging Republicans and protecting incumbents, popped up behind him, almost as a reminder that Republicans like Cruz and Molinaro should not get too close to Trump when Democrats are on their heels.