- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2015

Republican presidential front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson have not received any endorsements from Capitol Hill lawmakers despite the candidates’ agendas being supported by most members and popular with voters back home.

The hesitation to endorse the two outsider candidates at the front of the race has afflicted Republican lawmakers of every stripe, from establishment stalwarts to renegade tea partyers.

When pressed about the complete lack of endorsements, most lawmakers insisted it was too early or there were too many candidates to choose from — not that Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson are too far outside the mainstream to risk associating themselves with them.

However, some Republicans bluntly questioned Mr. Trump’s ability to go all the way to the White House or to do the job if he somehow makes it.

“I think Mr. Trump would be hard to elect,” said Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus that helped force out former Speaker John A. Boehner.

Mr. Franks, who has endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination, pledged to support Mr. Trump if he wins the nomination.

“Whoever our nominee is, I will strongly support. I am hopeful that we support someone who is eminently electable like a Mike Huckabee or [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio, or there are several others there. Carson I think is wonderful and could be very electable,” he said.

Rep. John Fleming, another Freedom Caucus member, gave voice to a misgiving that most lawmakers only share privately: He doesn’t fully trust Mr. Trump.

“He uses a lot of broad statements in the way that Barack Obama did, and these things can become fill-in-the-blanks. In other words, you hear what you want to hear, and then you get a surprise down the road,” the Louisiana Republican said.

“We just have to be careful. I want to know more about what does Donald Trump want to do with our foreign policy, other than saying that he is a tough negotiator against China and other places. I want to actually know what he intends to do in Afghanistan and Iraq and places like that. I really don’t know what he intends to do,” he said.

The lawmakers generally handled the affable Mr. Carson more gently.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson still must “prove themselves” to win more support from elected leaders.

Trump and Carson have to show they know what the job is about, not just be media stars,” he said.

Doug Heye, a Washington-based Republican political consultant, said that electability is a major reason lawmakers are not jumping on the Trump or Carson bandwagons — nobody wants to end up behind a loser.

“Every historical pattern we know tells us that Trump and Carson are unlikely to win the nomination. That may end up not being the case, but it explains why members have not endorsed,” said Mr. Heye, who served as a top adviser to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.

The Carson campaign said that the retired neurosurgeon deliberately has not solicited endorsements from a single governor, senator or congressman.

“Political endorsements will come in due time. They are not a priority for our campaign attention,” said Carson campaign spokesman Doug Watts.

The Trump campaign declined to comment.

For Mr. Trump, the dearth of endorsements contrasts with his strong push to crack down on illegal immigration and negotiate tougher trade deals with China and other trading partners — stances backed by conservative Republicans in Congress.

“Those are two issues to me that working Americans care about, and this Washington establishment of both parties seem[s] to fail to grasp,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican.

Mr. Sessions has never endorsed a candidate in a presidential primary, but he said that could change. And he disagreed that his colleagues were afraid to endorse Mr. Trump or Mr. Carson.

“Most people are a little slow to endorse. We don’t have many endorsements for any candidate,” he said.

Other GOP contenders have managed to pick up endorsements on Capitol Hill, arguably regardless of their overall electability.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was endorsed by three House members; Mr. Huckabee has received endorsements from two senators and four congressmen; Mr. Rubio got two senators and eight House members; and Mr. Cruz was endorsed by seven House members.

Sen. Rand Paul was endorsed by eight congressmen and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian whom Mr. Paul backed in a tough 2014 reelection race.

Jeb Bush collected the most endorsements in Congress: three current senators and 23 current House members.

“There’s a profound long-term loyalty to the Bushes,” said Rep. Kenny Marchant, Texas Republican.

He said that many lawmakers could be withholding endorsements from Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson in deference to the Bush family and former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

“They might endorse now but don’t want to offend Bush 41 and 43,” he said.

Under that scenario, they would begin to flock to one of the front-runners if Jeb Bush drops out of the race.

Lingering policy questions and doubts about electability haven’t deterred voters who consistently boost Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson to the top of the polls.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson were neck and neck at 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in a nationwide poll of likely GOP voters that Quinnipiac University released Wednesday.

The next-closest candidates were Mr. Rubio with 14 percent, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with 13 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 8 percent, according to the poll.

Rep. Alexander X. Mooney, a first-term West Virginia Republican, said he hadn’t endorsed anyone because he is torn between several candidates with whom he has relationships.

In a tough seven-way primary election that Mr. Mooney won in 2014, he had Mr. Huckabee campaign for him, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum helped his campaign, and Mr. Trump sent him an unsolicited $1,000 check.

“I think part of it is who do you have relationships with. What members of Congress know Ben Carson or Donald Trump personally?” he asked.

Mr. Mooney added that something else was going on.

“There is a reluctance, but, on the other hand, if some of these candidates falter — look at Scott Walker. He went from No. 1 to No. 9 in Iowa and dropped out,” he said. “What’s the hurry? Let’s let it shake out.”

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