MIDLOTHIAN, VA — Sheila Covert is worried about Donald Trump. The loyal Republican voter from Virginia calls the businessman “bombastic” and says there’s “just no substance” in his campaign rhetoric.
But if Trump does become the Republican presidential nominee?
“Well, I’d definitely vote for him,” said the 81-year-old Covert. After a pause, she added, “But I hope and pray it doesn’t come to that.”
Covert is part of a legion of skeptical Republican voters across the United States coming to terms with the prospect that Trump, a candidate whose appeal they simply can’t understand, may become their party’s best chance for retaking the White House.
The real estate mogul has three commanding primary victories in a row, including Tuesday in Nevada, and enters next week’s Super Tuesday elections in a strong position.
Interviews with about two dozen frequent Republican voters in Virginia, one of several states with a primary next week, reveal the complex mix of emotions Trump evokes within his own party.
Among those who don’t plan to vote for Trump in the primary, there’s shock, confusion and anxiousness over his candidacy. But there’s also a grudging acceptance of the billionaire’s political staying power and a feeling that despite his many flaws, he’d be better than another four years with a Democrat in the White House, particularly if that Democrat is Hillary Clinton.
“He says things you cannot imagine a president saying,” said Michael Glunt. But if Trump faces off against Clinton in November, the 42-year-old will cast his ballot for the Republican nominee.
“Hillary Clinton, I don’t trust her,” Glunt said.
Democratic officials are betting that Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric, particularly about women and immigrants, will turn off independents and some Republicans in battleground states like Virginia. Some anxious Republican leaders share that concern, contributing to the rush of lawmakers and other party officials rallying around Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as an alternative.
While some voters joke about moving to Canada if Trump becomes president, Nancy Bradner is looking at that possibility with some seriousness. A supporter of past Republican nominees including Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, she’s now researching Canadian politics, as well as the country’s health care system and housing market.
“This is the first time in my 68 years that I have truly been scared of what is going to happen in this election,” she said.
A recent AP-GfK poll, however, showed far more Republicans than not say they’d vote for Trump in the general election, and 86 percent of Republican voters think he can win in November, giving him a 15 percentage point advantage over anyone else.
JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent