WASHINGTON — Republican voters are on track to nominate Donald Trump for president for a third successive election cycle, leaving his GOP skeptics in the Senate at various points in the five stages of grief as he marches to the nomination.
Some, like Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, have reached acceptance following Trump's comfortable victories in Iowa and New Hampshire to kick off the primary.
Cornyn, a former Republican whip, has previously argued that Trump cannot win a 2024 general election due to his inability to appeal to voters outside his core base. Now, he's now one of 30 senators to endorse Trump for president.
“I think the single most important thing we can do is to replace Joe Biden,” Cornyn said Wednesday. “So I think it’s important to unify behind the candidate, and I respect the voters’ choices in Iowa and New Hampshire. I think you’ll see that repeated in South Carolina.”
He added a piece of advice for Trump: Pick Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, the failed GOP presidential candidate who is well liked by Senate colleagues, as vice presidential nominee.
But other senior Republicans are closer to the bargaining phase, unwilling to pronounce Trump the nominee but saying they'll back him if he secures the nomination.
"Voters are breaking heavily in his favor. He's in a commanding position, and I've said all along: I'll support the nominee," Senate Minority Whip John Thune, of South Dakota, who had endorsed Scott for president, told reporters. "So if [Trump is] the nominee, I'll do what I can to help the team win the presidency and the Senate."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, who has a tumultuous relationship with Trump, declined Tuesday to answer multiple questions about the former president, his legal problems or the GOP primary, telling reporters only that he was watching the New Hampshire primary with great interest.
On Wednesday, after Trump was pronounced the winner, McConnell stayed quiet when asked if he planned to endorse him.
"I don't have any news to make on that," McConnell said.
Sen. Joni Ernst, of Iowa, a member of the Republican leadership, didn’t endorse Trump but indicated she’d support President Joe Biden’s GOP opponent.
“I just want to beat Joe Biden. OK? However we get there, I’m all about it,” she said. “So that’s going to be my focus. So I’ll reserve comment till we get later on into the general election. But Joe Biden’s got to go. We all know that. So at some point, we’ll all coalesce to target Joe Biden. He’s the one we need to be focusing on.”
Others say plainly they won't support Trump, even if he wins the nomination.
“I do not, at this point. No,” said Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine.
"Each senator has to make his or her own decision. I'm glad to hear last night that Nikki Haley is determined to stay in," said Collins, one of seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump after his impeachment trial over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Sen. Todd Young, of Indiana, said he's been clear about Trump: "I have no intention of supporting him." He quipped that his remarks would hardly be "breaking news, once again."
When asked if he would change his position now that some of his colleagues are endorsing Trump, Young said: “I’ve never felt a need to join the establishment. And so, if I’m an outsider, I embrace that."
Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, who lost to Trump in the crowded 2016 GOP primary field, kept the door open to endorsing the former president: "We'll see over time."
Scott endorsed Trump last week ahead of the New Hampshire primary, but another of his backers, Sen. Mike Rounds, of South Dakota, who endorsed Scott for president last year, has not gotten behind Trump, indicating that he still harbors concerns about whether Trump is a strong general election contender.
“Most certainly other candidates have shown in polls that they would have had a higher percentage of support than the former president does," Rounds said. "It doesn’t mean that he can’t win in the next election. The concern that most of us have is that President Biden — and what he has done with Bidenomics, what he has done on foreign policy — has been a failure for this country. So we definitely need to change administrations.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, the only Republican to vote to convict Trump in both of his impeachments, said he'll never endorse him.
“I was one of those that voted that he should have been convicted in the impeachment trial. One of the implications of that was that he wouldn’t be able to run again,” Romney said. “How can I possibly endorse someone who I voted had violated a crime and misdemeanor under the constitutional standard?”
Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, was aghast to see the Republican colleagues he is friendly with rallying around Trump once again.
“I couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe it,” said Manchin, who is not running for re-election this year. “These are people I know, people I respect, I consider friends — to basically sell your soul.”