Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell sat down with NBC News’ Chuck Todd for an interview on Meet The Press on Sunday morning. Predictably, the conversation revolved heavily around the Republican party’s new standard-bearer, Donald J. Trump.
Specifically, Todd questioned McConnell on a trio of Trump-related issues facing the GOP: Whether he’s concerned that Trump’s often inflammatory and unpredictable candidacy will hurt down-ticket Republican senate candidates, whether he thinks Trump’s attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel are racist, and whether he’s concerned about the Latino vote come November.
On the first point, McConnell expressed some optimism. He insisted to Todd that he’s not worried about Republican senate candidates being hurt through sharing a ballot with the highly polarizing Trump.
“I’m very confident that these senate candidates that we have ? and we do have a lot of exposure this year, 24 Republicans up and only ten Democrats ? will rise and fall on their own merits,” McConnell said.
The interesting dilemma McConnell faced in claiming this was laid bare, however, when Todd asked him about Trump’s increasingly bitter, racial attacks on Curiel, who’s currently presiding over the Trump University fraud case. Todd repeatedly—three times, in fact—pressed McConnell on whether he thought Trump’s statements about the district judge were racist, and the Kentucky senator’s excruciatingly awkward reply hammered home why Republican senate candidates sharing the ballot with Trump may be in for a rough summer.
“I couldn’t disagree more with a statement like that,” he said repeatedly.
“This is a man who was born in Indiana, all of us came here from somewhere else, almost all Americans are either near-term immigrants like my wife, who came here at age eight not speaking a word of English, or the rest of us whose ancestors were risk-takers, who got up from wherever they were and came here and made this country great”
Despite claims to the contrary, McConnell’s awkward reply, declining to directly call Trump racist while voicing his firm disagreement, is a pretty sharp example of what down-ticket Republicans could be facing over the next several months.
Finally, McConnell also addressed concerns that the GOP will suffer at the ballot box with Latinos. Republicans performed poorly in this regard in 2012. With Trump’s nomination, many political observers are expecting to see an even worse showing in November. Todd asked McConnell if he was worried Trump might “leave a stain on the party” like Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater did back in 1964.
McConnell also noted that the party is “behind” Trump now, so he’d like to see the candidate start moderating himself, to give the party a legitimate chance of winning the presidency in November.
On this point, McConnell is definitely correct ? despite the months of speculation about conservative opposition to Trump, a recent poll by The New York Times and CBS News revealed that a majority of the Republican electorate wants the party to line up behind him. And with Speaker Paul Ryan having finally come around, it’s looking increasingly clear that any right-side opposition to Trump is going to be a fringe movement, while the party establishment throws its weight behind him.