WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins, a mainstream Republican from Clarence, on Wednesday became the first sitting member of Congress to endorse bombastic billionaire Donald Trump for president.
“Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that he has both the guts and the fortitude to return our nation’s jobs stolen by China, take on our enemies like ISIS, Iran, North Korea and Russia, and most importantly, re-establish the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to attain the American Dream,” Collins said in a statement released first to The Buffalo News. “That is why I am proud to endorse him as the next president of the United States.”
Collins had previously endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who ended his bid for the nomination after a disappointing fourth-place finish in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
Collins had cited Bush’s executive experience as his reason for supporting the former governor, and in his statement, Collins – himself a millionaire businessman – said Trump’s business background qualifies him for the nation’s highest office.
“If we want to get our nation’s economy growing again and deal with the daunting fiscal issues threatening America’s future, it’s time to say no to professional politicians and yes to someone who has created jobs and grown a business,” Collins said.
In a brief telephone interview Wednesday morning, Collins noted a striking similarity between Trump’s campaign slogan – “Make America Great Again” – and the vision statement that the congressman pledged to when he took office in 2013, which says: “The United States of America will reclaim its past glory as the Land of Opportunity, restoring the promise of the American Dream, for our children and grandchildren.”
Comparing those two messages, Collins said: “It’s as if he read my vision statement and simplified it.”
In the interview, Collins said he gravitated toward Trump rather than Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – the choice of many elected Republicans – because Trump’s business experience is better preparation for the presidency than is serving as a lawmaker.
“We’re electing a chief executive, not a chief politician,” Collins said.
Trump has made himself the GOP front-runner with big wins in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries as well as in Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses, capitalizing on a series of dramatic, nationalistic campaign proposals and a say-anything approach to campaigning.
Collins said he was particularly drawn to Trump’s proposal to get tough with nations that have been taking advantage of America in world trade.
“We need to grow our way to success, and that means standing up to countries that are cheating,” Collins said.
At the same time, though, Collins acknowledged that he isn’t exactly in lockstep with Trump on all the issues.
For example, Collins did not endorse Trump’s call to deport the nation’s 11 million undocumented aliens.
“To deport them? No. But we can certainly determine who they are,” he said, adding: “I think he’s just talking about a process.”
Collins represents a district between Buffalo and Rochester that includes plenty of farms, including many that rely on migrant labor from Mexico. Asked about that fact, he said farmers there want just what he wants and just what Trump wants: A legally documented immigrant workforce that can come and go with the seasons.
Collins also disagreed with Trump’s call for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration.
“At this point I’m not ready to go that far, no,” said Collins. Nevertheless, he reiterated his call for blocking the admission of new refugees from Syria, noting that FBI Director James Comey has said he could not personally certify that none of the Syrian refugees pose a security threat.
Trump also has adopted an unusual campaign style, sometimes spewing profanity from the podium and, on one occasion, mocking the physical disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.
“He’s already promised to stop using language like that,” Collins said. “I’ll call it a transition from the private sector to the public sector.”
Collins compared Trump’s bombast to a controversial comment Collins himself made while contemplating a run for governor in 2010, in which he called then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver “the Antichrist.”
As for Trump, “he was speaking without a filter,” Collins added.
Announcing his endorsement a day after Trump’s landslide win in the Nevada caucuses, Collins became one of the first mainstream Republicans in the country to endorse the billionaire developer. Other prominent Trump endorsers include former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
In contrast to Trump, Rubio has won endorsements from 59 current governors, senators and House members, according to the FiveThirtyEight.com “Endorsement Primary.” Meanwhile, 25 governors and federal lawmakers have endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and seven have endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Western New York’s other Republican member of Congress, Rep. Tom Reed of Corning, also had endorsed Bush. But on Tuesday, Reed stopped short of making another endorsement.
“This presidential cycle has had many quality Republican candidates, all of which would be improvements over those who would continue the failed policies of the current administration. I trust the voters to select the best Republican to be our nominee and next president,” Reed said.
Collins, however, said he quickly settled on Trump after Bush left the race.
“His background is more similar to mine,” Collins said of Trump, adding: “He certainly didn’t call and ask” for the endorsement.
At the same time, though, it’s hard to know what Collins’ endorsement will mean to Trump – especially given what the Republican front-runner said on “Good Morning America” Wednesday morning.
“Now, and as of yesterday, people were calling, a lot of people were calling and I’ll have many endorsements soon, but it’s not something I want to work for, to be honest with you, because it’s a waste of time,” Trump said. “Endorsements mean very little.”
News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org