Republicans in Missouri and Kansas, and across the nation, spent much of Wednesday grappling with an astonishing fact: Donald Trump is their candidate for president.
Some accepted the reality enthusiastically. Others, reluctantly. Some said they could never support the New York businessman and looked for alternatives.
But all agreed the Trump nomination moved from possibility to certainty in a breathtaking, final 18-hour dash this week, from the time Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his campaign Tuesday to Gov. John Kasich’s departure from the race Wednesday afternoon.
It’s now time, they said, to figure out what’s next.
“We know who our nominee is,” said Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. “Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. And it’s now time for the Republican Party to get together and make sure Hillary Clinton does not get elected.”
On NBC Wednesday morning, Trump promoted a similar unity message. “I am confident I can unite much of” the GOP, he said.
But Trump quickly added a warning.
“Some of it I don’t want,” he said. “There were statements made about me, that those people can go away and maybe come back in eight years.”
Some of “those people” were out in force Wednesday, blasting the candidate’s ascendancy.
“The Republican Party is voting for suicide, handing the White House to Hillary Clinton,” wrote influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson. Republican voters are “corrupting conservatism in a very sad way,” said Bill Kristol, writer for the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.
Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska continued their criticism of the nominee. Mark Salter, a former adviser to GOP candidate John McCain, tweeted: “I’m with her.”
Elise Jordan, a former adviser to Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, wrote: “Those who embrace Trump’s candidacy will own the downfall of our party.”
Yet for every discouraging word there were efforts to calm the waters.
Former Missouri legislator Jason Crowell is a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and a one-time supporter of Cruz. He said Republicans fighting the Trump nomination are more interested in their own success than the party’s.
“Finally, the grass roots, the true Republican voters, have taken over the party,” he said. “This is an awakening. It’s finally happened.”
Cheryl Reynolds, a GOP delegate from Topeka and a Trump supporter, said the party’s split is familiar, and little cause for concern.
“It seems like we have the same sort of conversation every year,” she said. “We had it about McCain, we had it about (Ronald) Reagan. … Perhaps it is a more heightened feeling (against Trump), but I don’t know if it’s different.”
Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who endorsed Trump this spring, said he felt vindicated.
“He speaks from the gut like a regular person,” Kobach said. “He doesn’t speak in rehearsed political phrases.”
Even some Trump critics said they were prepared to swallow their opposition to the candidate.
“Donald Trump is unfit to be president,” wrote conservative Mark Krikorian for the National Review. “He doesn’t know even the Cliff Notes version of any policy issue. … I’m going to vote for him anyway.”
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would support Trump. The nominee, McConnell said, has an “obligation” to unite the party.
Others kept quiet. The Associated Press said spokespeople for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney did not respond to inquiries. Other reports said Bush, and his father George H.W. Bush, would not issue endorsements in the presidential race.
Most Republicans agreed party unity was essential if Hillary Clinton is to be defeated in the fall.
A new poll Wednesday showed the likely Democratic nominee leading Trump by 13 points, her largest margin since mid-March. The Real Clear Politics average of all polls gave Clinton a 6.5 percent lead.
Closing that gap will cost money, and there were signs Wednesday that Trump will work harder to raise outside money for his campaign. He’s claimed self-funding for his primary race but said he might seek outside dollars in the weeks to come.
There is room for donors to help Trump. Federal Election Commission records show Trump has raised just $27,177 from Missouri sources to date, far less than 10 other GOP presidential candidates. Cruz, for example, collected $817,735 from Missouri supporters.
Kansans have given Trump just $17,586 out of more than $1.1 million they’ve donated to the rest of the GOP field this year.
But big-dollar donors — billionaires Charles and David Koch, for example — continue to keep their distance from the GOP nominee.
Trump moved to consolidate his support Wednesday by telling The New York Times he would appoint Ben Carson and others to a vice-president search committee. He said he would look for a “political person” to share the ticket.
Republicans in Kansas and Missouri said Trump might need to do more to prevail in the fall.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, who is running for re-election, met with reporters in Lenexa. He said he’ll back Trump, largely because he opposes Clinton.
“He wasn’t my first choice,” Yoder said. “He’s got to focus on issues that matter to the American people.”
Wednesday morning, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a news release criticizing Yoder’s support for Trump.
“Yoder will have to face the potential disaster of sharing the ballot with such a divisive figure,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the committee.
Other candidates will face similar questions about Trump, some outsiders predicted. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said this week he will not attend the party’s national convention, but he has said he will support the nominee of the party — Trump.
Stanley Cox, a former state representative and a Missouri GOP delegate, said Trump needs to reach out to Republicans and independents disenchanted with the candidate’s aggressive rhetoric.
“Don Trump has a lot of work to do in this state and elsewhere,” Cox said. “I don’t know that he can succeed. … I certainly hope that Missouri goes for Donald Trump, but I don’t really know that. He has difficulties in lots of segments of people.”
Arnold, the Kansas chairman, said it’s Trump’s task to reach voters angry with the results. Cruz carried the Kansas caucuses by a wide margin, and the delegates he won are still committed to him until released.
“Donald Trump’s responsibility is to be able to make sure he brings into the fold the people that supported the other candidates,” Arnold said. “He needs to be the one who talks to the Cruz voters, the Kasich voters, to Marco Rubio voters, and bring them back.”
Trump made conciliatory statements about Cruz during his remarks Tuesday evening and has not sharply criticized Kasich in recent days. Yet there were no indications as of Wednesday that Trump had talked with either vanquished opponent.
And Cruz was deeply critical of Trump on Tuesday, calling him a liar and “amoral.” He did not mention Trump when he withdrew from the race.
The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.