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Trump Puts Republican Candidates in a Corner

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a news conference before a public signing for his new book
Trump’s comments about Muslims have the GOP worried. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Republican congressional candidates have been slow to take a position on GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Trump has put Republican Senate candidates into the position of either addressing his comments and alienating Republicans who agree with Trump, or staying silent and hurting themselves with voters in the general election.

Republican political strategists say candidates have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and Trump’s over-the-top comments.

“Trump has said a lot of outrageous things, but this takes things to a new level,” Republican consultant Brian Walsh said Tuesday.

“I can understand the reluctance to respond to every outrageous thing he says, but I do think this is an opportunity to have some separation with him,” Walsh said.

Senate campaigns face a balancing act, he said.

“On the one hand, you don’t want to alienate his supporters,” Walsh said of Trump’s socially conservative base.

Nor should candidates stray from their own message and “get pulled into a long-drawn debate over every thing he says,” Walsh said.

“On the other hand,” Walsh cautioned, “standing with him on something like this could alienate the middle of the road voter,” especially, he said, in the all-important battleground states.

Florida Rep. David Jolly, who’s vying for the GOP nomination for Florida’s open Senate seat, offered the strongest rebuke so far.

The two-term representative, who represents a key state in the presidential contest, called on Trump to drop out of the race Monday night in the hours following Trump’s comments.

“While ISIS is beheading innocent people for their religious practices, Trump is betraying our freedoms,” Jolly said in a statement.

“His brutal, bullying bigotry runs contrary to the very principles our forefathers fought so hard to defend. We are either a party of protecting the constitution and religious liberties or we’re not. America should insist on a security test but never a religious test,” Jolly said.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who’s facing a competitive re-election, said in a statement Tuesday that he disagreed with Trump’s proposal, although he did not mention Trump by name.

“It’s not what America stands for, and it is counter to constitutional principles of religious liberty,” Portman said. “Of course we should vet everyone who wants to come to our country to ensure they don’t pose a security risk, but it should be done based on factors that relate to security.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey tweeted Tuesday morning that Trump was “wrong.”

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