Unpacking Joni Ernst's mixed messages about Donald Trump

Senator Joni Ernst has consistently pledged to support the Republican presidential nominee, whether that person is Donald Trump or someone else. She told Erin Murphy last week that she hopes the eventual nominee will headline her biggest campaign event of the year, the second annual “Roast and Ride” this August.

But in an apparent rebuke to the GOP front-runnner, Ernst made a splash a few days ago by saying women should not put up with Trump’s “nonsense,” and that she is “disappointed” by the “name calling and finger-pointing” dominating the Republican race for the presidency.

Looking more closely at what Ernst told WHO-TV’s Dave Price, I have trouble finding any coherence to her views on Trump.

Price interviewed Ernst for the April 3 edition of the Sunday morning talk show “The Insiders.” You can watch the relevant clip here. Commenting generally on the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, Ernst said,

I’m disappointed in what I see in the race right now with the name calling and the finger-pointing. I don’t think that’s productive. I really wish our candidates were getting out there and sharing their ideas. I would like to hear more about foreign policy and actual solutions, and leadership abilities in addressing what’s going on globally and nationally. I would like to see a constructive dialogue, and we’re not seeing that right now. […]

Asked whether she would be comfortable with Trump as the nominee, given his “lack of specificity in some cases on foreign policy,” Ernst replied,

I am comfortable with him, if he is the nominee, and he is at the helm. What I would encourage him to do is to listen to the members of our Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think we have brilliant military leaders. So not only listening to those military leaders, but also [to] those diplomats, that have worked around the globe. Not every solution is going to be a military solution. We also have to have diplomacy. So I would encourage him to listen to those people that have focused in these regions, and take their words into consideration, their thoughts, their ideas, their strategies.

Is Ernst concerned that Trump’s disrespectful way of speaking about people could reflect poorly on other Republican candidates this fall?

I think it’s an overall concern, regardless of nominee, exactly what’s going on in the GOP infighting right now. We have got to get beyond that. We have got to get back to a respectful dialogue. Again, I think we need to talk about policy issues, rather than the name-calling and the finger-pointing. I think we have to get back to a level of respect and dignity that those offices demand.

Price then referenced a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing some 70 percent of women nationally have an unfavorable view of Trump (one reason among many I don’t lose sleep over his chances to defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton). How would Republicans overcome that deficit, he wondered. Ernst (emphasis added):

I think there are a number of women that will not support him. There will be some that do, if they agree, once he has specified what his policies are. There are people that will agree with him. But I would encourage women to stand up and say, “You know what, I’m not going to put up with his nonsense, but you know what? I do agree with him on this policy.” So sometimes we have to look beyond certain aspects of a person and figure out do we agree. […] And he may not be able to overcome some of those aspects. But just as I do with the Democratic colleagues that I work with, a number of them, I have partnered on legislation, and maybe the very next day, they will be on the Senate floor, ripping me up one side and down the other, on an area that we disagree on. But you know what? I’m not going to take that personally, because I am bigger than they are when it comes to that.

To close out the segment, Price asked Ernst whether she thinks “in her gut” that the nominee won’t be settled before the Republican National Convention. Part of her answer:

We are seeing a clear front-runner right now. Can that gap close? Yes, it still can close somewhat. But I am hopeful that if the people are speaking across the United States loud and clear, and there is a clear separation from the front-runner and that second-place finisher, I am hopeful that when we go to convention, then those delegates would support that clear front-runner. But again, it would have to be very decisive.

As for RNC delegates offering the nomination to someone who didn’t run for president this cycle, Ernst suggested “it would be hard to get buy-in” for that scenario.

To sum up:

• Ernst isn’t happy to see so much “name calling and the finger-pointing” in the GOP presidential race. Without any doubt, Trump has been setting that tone, bringing down our national discourse since last summer. Arguably, his penchant for making outrageous comments (praised by many as a sign the candidate doesn’t bow to “political correctness”) vaulted Trump to the top of most national and state polls.

• Ernst wants to see more “constructive dialogue” from candidates, especially related to global affairs. (I’ll pause for a moment, so those who remember her relentlessly scripted, mostly non-substantive 2014 campaign rhetoric can stop laughing.) Trump has little interest in public policy and no grasp for nuances on any domestic or foreign policy matter.

• Ernst wants Trump to listen to experts in the fields of military and foreign policy. She might as well wish Bernie Sanders would talk less about income inequality and take more advice from Wall Street insiders. That’s not who Trump is. Even more than most successful business executives, he thinks extremely highly of his own intelligence and abilities. When has he ever modified his stand based on well-known facts or input from professionals in other fields? He knows how to deal with China, because “they buy apartments from me.” Confronted with the reality that Mexico’s leaders will not agree to pay for a wall along the border with the U.S., Trump promised, “The wall just got ten feet higher.”

• Ernst wants women to say, “I’m not going to put up with [Trump’s] nonsense.” But immediately, she channels a hypothetical woman who likes some of his policy stands: “sometimes we have to look beyond certain aspects of a person and figure out do we agree.” I can relate to voting for a candidate I may not personally admire. But let’s be clear: looking beyond Trump’s piggish attitudes (in the name of political pragmatism) is the definition of putting up with his “nonsense.” The #NeverTrump crowd are the only Republicans who refuse to accommodate his willful ignorance and bigotry.

• Ernst suggests Trump “may not be able to overcome some of those aspects” of his personality that alienate women. I happen to agree. He is a narcissist, and such people strongly resist change. But is Ernst saying Trump’s offensive nature shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for Republican women, because he’s too set in his ways? What happened to personal responsibility?

• Ernst isn’t endorsing anyone, but she hopes GOP delegates will nominate the “clear front-runner” at the time of the convention. Current conventional wisdom suggests Trump is unlikely to lock down an absolute majority of delegates before July. However, he is on track to come close to that magic number. Almost certainly, he will be well ahead of Ted Cruz in the delegate race (you can play around with numbers here). So is Ernst saying she wants Trump to be the nominee? Not quite: the front-runner’s lead over the candidate in second place “would have to be very decisive.” What does that mean? Is several hundred delegates decisive? What if Cruz receives more votes in the last group of nominating contests?

Please share any relevant comments in this thread, especially if you can make sense of what Ernst really thinks about Trump.

P.S.-I am still looking for any Iowa Republican official at any level who is willing to say #NeverTrump.

P.P.S.- William Garbe reported for the Sunday Dubuque Telegraph-Herald on where Representative Rod Blum stands regarding a possible Trump nomination:

But on both sides, Blum said, families are frustrated with their lot over the past 20 years. He said wages are stagnant for the working class. That issue transcends both sides.

“I don’t follow the Democrats that close, but I think the Bernie Sanders supporters are frustrated,” Blum said. “And you look at (Donald) Trump’s supporters, I think a lot of them are not traditional Republicans and a lot of them are Reagan Democrats. A lot of them are blue-collar, working families, and hey, welcome. We want those folks. I love those folks. And he’s attracting them with his message.”

That message from Trump, however, has caused its own anger on both sides of the aisle. Regardless, Blum said he will support the Republican nominee, whoever that might be.

“I’m a Republican, and that’s our party,” he said. “Unlike a lot of the professional political ruling class, I trust the people. If the majority of our voters in the 50 states say Donald Trump’s our guy, I trust our voters.”

For what it’s worth, even if Trump ends up with a majority of Republican delegates, he will fall well short of a majority of GOP primary voters and caucus-goers. At this writing, Trump has received an estimated 7,863,052 votes, a bit more than 37 percent of all the ballots cast so far in GOP primaries or caucuses. Most other Republican front-runners have received at least 40 percent of the vote across all states.

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