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Pearce won’t dump Trump, but he’s keeping his distance for now

Rep. Steve Pearce had some simple advice for Republicans hoping to dump Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee at their national convention in Cleveland this week.

“When we start thinking we’re smarter than the voters we can get in real trouble,” Pearce said in a phone interview from Cleveland on Wednesday as he prepared to start work as a member of the convention’s rules committee.

For the past couple of months, there has been consistent chatter among Republicans about replacing the controversial Trump at the convention in favor of another candidate.

But the reality is that Trump destroyed his GOP rivals in most of the nation’s state-by-state primary contests. Like him or not, Trump won the Republican nomination fair and square. Replacing him now would require a historic rules change.

That realization seemed to be dawning on all but the most hard-headed convention delegates by Thursday night, when an anti-Trump group on the rules committee failed to advance their effort. They vowed to press on when the convention convenes on Monday, but the effort is likely in vain.

While Pearce hasn’t advocated dumping Trump in Cleveland, he is among many high-profile Republicans struggling to fully embrace the presumptive nominee, whose bombastic comments about Hispanics, Muslims, and others offended millions of Americans during the long primary campaign.

“I’ve said all along that I will vote for our nominee over Hillary Clinton,” Pearce said. “He wasn’t my first choice or even second choice, but he is our nominee – so absolutely.”

In recent weeks, Pearce and other congressional Republicans sparked media ridicule when they suggested they would “support” Trump as the party’s nominee, but not formally “endorse” him. What’s the difference? Pearce explained it to me in terms of local politics.

“I’ve always gotten some good support from the Democratic community,” Pearce said, referring to conservative Democrats who have crossed party lines to support his U.S. House campaigns. “But a lot of my Democrat friends, when (Barack) Obama was running for president the first time, said, ‘Hey man, I’m going to support you but I can’t endorse you – I can’t say anything publicly’…. People out there understand the difference.

“Support means I’m going to vote for him (Trump) over Hillary Clinton,” Pearce added. “I couldn’t ever imagine trying to get her elected under any circumstance by not voting for our candidate. An endorsement is saying, ‘I’m going to go out there and put my name beside yours’.”

And that’s not something that Pearce, a seasoned and savvy politician, is quite ready or willing to do for Trump.

The New York businessman’s outrageous claim last year that Mexican immigrants were often rapists and criminals did not play well with some voters in New Mexico’s heavily Hispanic 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses the state’s border with Mexico.

“I’ve gone to the Trump campaign and said, ‘Hey, if you want an endorsement from me being in the 2nd District of New Mexico we’re going to need to get this relationship with the Hispanics repaired’,” Pearce said. “We’re having that ongoing discussion. They’re (Trump’s advisers) catching me at events and saying, ‘Here’s what we’re doing – take a look.’ So, we’re having a good conversation. They understand exactly what I’m saying and they intend to correct it.”

Pearce, whose wife, Cynthia, is also a convention delegate this week in Cleveland, said he looked forward to welcoming other New Mexico delegates to town and working to smooth over lingering differences of opinion about the party’s nominee.

“Any time you have a rigorous primary like we’ve had, the first big gathering after that is an opportunity for people to start feeling better and forgetting the wounds of the past,” Pearce said. “I think there’s a real opportunity for a good upbeat convention.”

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