Florida Sen. Marco Rubio may be the runaway first choice of Minnesota Republicans for president — he won Minnesota’s GOP presidential caucuses, topping his nearest rival, Ted Cruz, by eight percentage points.
But pretty much everywhere else, Republicans’ first choice is Donald Trump. The New York billionaire has picked up ten of the 15 states that have voted, and looks poised to pick up many more.
Trump is now the prohibitive favorite to earn the GOP presidential nomination, and the establishment wing of the party, which sees Trump as a one-way ticket to defeat in November, is mounting an all-out, last-ditch campaign to stop him. Many prominent Republicans have said they would refuse to vote for Trump if he were the nominee.
With a Trump nomination closer than ever, MinnPost checked in with prominent Minnesota Republicans to see what they would do if the controversial candidate became their party’s standard-bearer.
Note: MinnPost will update this story as we hear from more Republicans.
Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen
“The way I look at it is, at the top of the ticket, you want someone who can unify people, who can bring them together. Sen. Rubio is the person with the best capability of doing that.
“I wanna win in November. I’ve got concern about others in the race actually winning. I do think Senator Rubio has the capability, much like Speaker Ryan, a new generation leader, that’s a really good positive Republicans have been lacking right now. Some of the stuff going on with Trump, even Cruz, there are Republicans who don’t like it. I worry about unity.
“I expect to support the Republican nominee. I do think Rubio has the ability to unite. You wouldn’t see that bitterness or division if he were the nominee.”
Second District Rep. John Kline
“It’s my intention to support the Republican nominee, and we’ll keep working hard for Marco Rubio.”
Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer
“[The Minnesota caucus] was surprising to me, it really was. Trump didn’t really place very well.
“I’ll support the Republican candidate, but let’s wait and see what happens with the process. We’ve got a little while to go yet.”
Minnesota GOP Chair Keith Downey
“Obviously [Trump] is the front-runner. He won most of the states outright. Trump has a nice lead on delegates, Cruz is competitive, Rubio is in the game in terms of delegates. Trump had a good night, but it’s way too early to call given the number of states and the number of proportionally allocated states… It’s a competitive time in the race. It’s sharp elbows time in the political season.
“We have one job, to try to elect our endorsed Republican candidates. The Republican Party will do everything it can to support all our candidates.”
Former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber
“I’ve been able to brag to all my friends about the good judgment of the people of Minnesota. Not only did Trump not win, he didn’t finish second. I hope that’s a result that’s going to be repeated in future primaries.
“I’m not trying to hedge, I genuinely mean the answer [to the question of whether he’d support Trump if nominee] is, I don’t know. It’d be very difficult to vote for someone who believes what he believes and says what he says. I wish the Democratic Party was moving closer to the center, which is what Bill Clinton did in 1992, but Hillary Clinton, urged on by Bernie Sanders, is moving to the left. That makes it a harder decision for someone like me. It’s not out of the question to [support Clinton]. I’ve never voted for a Democrat for president, and it’d be a hard thing for me to do.
“You’ve gotta put country first, and what Trump wants to do with the country would be pretty disastrous. Those of us who aren’t for Trump don’t have a lot of great options… We have to hope Rubio will beat him in Florida and Kasich will beat him in Ohio.
“It’s a crisis for the party [if Trump becomes the nominee]. A crisis that leads to a substantial defeat for the party.”
Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman
In an op-ed for the Star Tribune, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman wrote:
I won’t vote for Donald Trump… He isn’t a Republican. He isn’t a conservative. He isn’t a truth teller.
I also won’t vote for Donald Trump because of who he is. A bigot. A misogynist. A fraud. A bully… We have been deceived by a con artist. A fraud wrapped in the veneer of being a businessman, who has slapped a slogan on a baseball cap and is closer to being president of the United States than any bigot, misogynist, fraud and bully in modern American history.
Who my choice may be if Donald Trump is the standard bearer under the rules of the Republican Party, I do not know. I know it won’t be Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And I know it will never be Donald Trump.
Former MNGOP and Coleman for Senate Communications Director, Mark Drake
“I was very pleased with the results from our caucuses, I’m a Rubio supporter, I was pleased to see Trump have his worst showing in the country. I think for a lot of Republicans here… People are uncomfortable with him, leery of him, obviously, he’s not a conservative.
“When he feigns that he didn’t know who David Duke is, that really drove people out. I’d put myself in that camp of people being horrified by that. I would not be able to support him. If he can’t be stopped, I’d hope there’d be a third-party, conservative alternative to him.
“Everyone is gonna have to make their own decision on this one. Anyone who supports an alternative, third-party candidate, I think people would recognize we’re in extraordinary circumstances. People will have to do what they think is right. I can’t bring myself to do it under any circumstances.”
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown)
“I haven’t formally backed anyone, I was with Scott Walker’s campaign, but I haven’t backed anyone since. I didn’t make it to my [caucus] location, but I would’ve likely voted for Rubio. Trump came in third where in most states Trump is one or two. It’s kind of interesting, he’s not resonating as well here.
“My job this cycle is to hold onto the House. We’re watching the top of the ticket closely. I probably would [support Trump if he were the nominee]. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what-ifs… I wouldn’t call it a done deal. But the further we get without some clarity makes it difficult for a non-Trump candidate to be successful.”
State Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville)
“I’m shocked. I understand there is frustration out there among Republicans and many times, that frustration is directed at the ‘establishment’ and the people who have failed to carry forward a conservative agenda.
“What’s shocking to me, one, is that Trump has been able to overcome behaving in such a way and acting in such a way and saying things that, I don’t think it’d be going too far to say no prominent politician or candidate in history has been able to defy gravity like that.
“Two, typically people who are disaffected with the establishment are on the conservative end of the party, and they’re supporting a guy whose public pronouncements and opinions have been leftist positions. I don’t think it’s a lock yet, but if I had to go to Las Vegas and put money on him, how could I not?
“You know, if Donald Trump is running against Hillary Clinton, yes, I’ll vote for Donald Trump. I fear Donald Trump is a closet leftist. I know others are out-of-the-closet leftists.”