In some corners, the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee is downright scary – to Republicans.
A New York Times story this month quoted a former state GOP chairman in Illinois saying “the repercussions of that in this state would be devastating.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s rivals, said a Trump candidacy would be “an utter, complete and total disaster” for other GOP candidates.
But in North Carolina, where Trump drew more than 8,000 people to Raleigh’s Dorton Arena last week, several current and former party officials and GOP consultants are more measured about whether Trump would help or hurt.
“I don’t think there’s an answer to that,” says veteran strategist Carter Wrenn. “He sort of suspends all the political laws of gravity. How can you predict whether it’s going to be a meltdown if he’s the nominee or if he keeps on rolling?”
State GOP Chair Hasan Harnett won’t predict. But he says Trump is “speaking to people who are either feeling angry or upset about how politics has been conducted … and people are wanting change.”
Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who’s on the state party’s national committee, says the GOP is working to turn out out votes regardless of the nominee. But he believes, “A lot of Republicans are excited and engaged in the process as a result of Trump’s involvement who have not been engaged very much before.”
But former state party chairman Bill Cobey sees the downside of a Trump nomination.
“I don’t think it would be good news for North Carolina,” he says. “It’s been proven in North Carolina that neither party can totally depend on their base vote. … The unaffiliated vote is huge. You have to get the unaffiliated vote and pick off as many conservative Democrats as you can. Last time I looked, (Trump’s) negatives were very high.”
An October survey by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found 51 percent of N.C. voters had an unfavorable impression of Trump compared with 37 percent who viewed him favorably. That tracks national polls.
Trump isn’t the top choice for Claude Pope, a former state party chair. But he says he’d get behind him and believes other Republicans would too.
“I think Republicans will coalesce around the Republican nominee, whether that’s Ted Cruz, Donald Trump or Chris Christie,” Pope says. “The thing that unites Republicans more than divides them is … Hillary. They hate Hillary more.”
Paul Shumaker, top strategist for U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, says terrorism and foreign policy could be the top issues of 2016. He believes that could help the GOP nominee regardless of who it is.
“Right now Americans are looking for leadership and they’re looking for tough action,” Shumaker says. “And (Trump) probably espouses that better than anybody else.”
And Ada Fisher, the state party’s other national committee member, says Trump’s appeal to voters – even African-Americans – could surprise people.
“If Trump gets the nomination he’s going to win and be president of the United States,” she says. “I have no doubt about that.”