MIDLOTHIAN, Va. — Sheila Covert is worried about Donald Trump.
A loyal Republican voter from swing state Virginia, Covert calls the businessman “bombastic” and says there’s “just no substance” in his boastful campaign rhetoric.
But if Trump does become the GOP presidential nominee?
“Well, I’d definitely vote for him,” said Covert, an 81-year-old from the Richmond suburb of Powhatan. 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 grips with the prospect that Trump, a candidate whose appeal they simply can’t understand, may end of being their party’s best chance for retaking the White House. The real estate mogul has scored three commanding primary victories in a row, including Tuesday in Nevada, and enters next week’s delegate-rich Super Tuesday elections in strong position.
Interviews with about two dozen frequent Republican voters in Virginia — an important general election battleground and one of several states with a primary next week — reveal the complex mix of emotions Trump evokes within in 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, a 42-year-old landscaper from Midlothian. But if Trump faces off against Clinton in November, Glunt will cast his ballot for the GOP nominee.
“In this particular case, I would vote for him,” Glunt said. “Hillary Clinton, I don’t trust her. There’s no trust.”
The voters interviewed by The Associated Press represent a tiny sliver of the electorate. But their views illuminate the debate within both parties about how a Trump nomination would play out in November, particularly as that prospect becomes more real with each voting contest.
Democratic officials are betting that Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric, particularly about women and immigrants, would turn off independents and some Republicans in battleground states like Virginia. Some anxious GOP leaders share that concern, contributing to the sudden rush of lawmakers and other party officials rallying around Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as an alternative.
Bill Ginther, a 69-year-old retiree from Midlothian, is among the Republicans so turned off by Trump they can hardly envision voting for him if he’s the nominee. Ginther, who plans to vote for Rubio in Tuesday’s primary, says he’s “honestly shocked” that Trump has come as far as he has.
“I don’t know if I could vote for him,” Ginther said. “It would make it very difficult.”
Donald Trump’s victory speech after winning the GOP Nevada caucuses on Tuesday. Video by PBS NewsHour
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 GOP 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.
Bradner doesn’t know if she’d really go through with a move north — “I can’t leave my grandbabies,” she said — but makes clear that “it would be an option.”
“I just don’t think I could be in the midst of it,” Bradner said. “This is the first time in my 68 years that I have truly been scared of what is going to happen in this election.”
A recent AP-GfK poll, however, suggests Ginther and Bradner may be in the minority. The survey 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.
For Cumberland County resident Tina Shumaker, the prospect of voting for Trump is deeply unappealing. Her top concern in the election is national security, and she can’t fathom Trump engaging in diplomacy or being able to keep the country safe.
But her concerns about him pale in comparison to her dislike of Clinton. And while Shumaker sees no good options in a general election contest between the two, the 66-year-old leaves no question about who would get her support.
“If it would have to come between him and Hillary, I’m afraid he’d get my vote,” Shumaker said. “I hope it doesn’t turn out that way. But it’s beginning to look that way.”