GOP conundrum: candidates decry and vow to support Trump in same debate

As businessman Donald Trump continues to dominate the race, the Republican party is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Paul Sancya/AP
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump makes a point as Sen. Marco Rubio, (R) of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz, (R) of Texas, listen during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre, Thursday in Detroit.

Thursday was a strange day for the Republican establishment, as some of the party's most prominent voices alternately decried presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and flocked to support him.

In a speech in Salt Lake City on Thursday, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned about what the future of the party, and the nation, would look like if Mr. Trump was selected as a nominee. Arizona Senator John McCain, who campaigned in 2008, echoed similar sentiments, as did House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Mr. Romney’s running mate in 2012.

Then, during Thursday night’s Republican debate in Detroit, the remaining contenders for this year’s Republican nomination said that they would support the business mogul if he wins the nomination.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dropped out of the running himself just last month, has endorsed Trump after sharply criticizing him during his own campaign. Governor Christie's abrupt about-face showcases the bind that the Republican party finds itself in following Super Tuesday. Trump picked up 321 delegates during that day’s voting, the most of any of his rivals and 98 more than his closest competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Senator Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spent the first part of the evening leveling personal attacks against Trump. Rubio called Trump a con artist for promising business success through his Trump University program, and Trump countered by saying Rubio “scammed the people of Florida” by skipping out on Senate votes.

However, as the evening wore on, both senators reluctantly conceded that they would support him if he were nominated. They asked wide-ranging questions about Trump’s conservative beliefs and his apparent flexibility on policy. On immigration policy, Trump said that he had changed his mind, and is interested in bringing in skilled workers from overseas.

Trump dismissed Romney’s speech as a thinly-veiled attempt at political relevancy, calling the former Massachusetts governor a “failed candidate” who could have won against President Obama four years ago but lost.  

Trump does not yet have enough delegates to secure the nomination. He has 46 percent of the available total, and he would need 51 percent in order to make it to the Republican national convention in July. However, leaders within the Republican party do not see much possibility for preventing him from becoming their presidential nominee, although ideas about a contested convention and a possible third-party candidate have been floated.

The Democratic field is relatively calm compared to the chaos that now surrounds the Republican party. Hillary Clinton picked up 1,058 delegates on Super Tuesday to Bernie Sanders’ 431, and has also support from leaders within her party. Senator Sanders’ odds for securing the nomination are becoming increasingly slim, but he has pledged to continue campaigning.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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