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World The many stages of Republican grief: How the party is coping with a Trump world

U.S. Election 2016

The many stages of Republican grief: how the party is coping with a Trump world

Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Poughkeepsie, New York, in April.

Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Poughkeepsie, New York, in April.

EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS

Republican figures and activists over the last 48 hours offer a glimpse into the many emotions – from denial to anger to grudging acceptance – as Donald Trump emerges as the presumptive nominee who will lead the party in the general election in November

Watching U.S. Republicans come to terms with the reality of Donald Trump carries echoes of the stages of grief – with many still stuck in anger.

The billionaire real-estate tycoon is the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee and will likely face Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the general election in November.

There can be no doubt: Mr. Trump has his legions of supporters – how else did he vanquish more than a dozen rivals?

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But over the past 48 hours, many Republican figures and conservative activists have offered a glimpse into the conflicting feelings and emotions that permeate large sections of the party.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he could not support Mr. Trump at this point until the presumptive nominee does more to unify the party. He is the highest profile Republican figure to say he is not ready to back Mr. Trump.

Getting the party to unite ahead of the national convention in July – and in time for the autumn general election – will take a lot of work and healing.

Here is a flavour of how some U.S. Republicans are coping.

Denial

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake's misgivings about a Trump candidacy are nothing new. He has bristled at Mr. Trump's proposals to ban the entry of Muslims to the U.S. and to get Mexico to pay for a wall along its border to stop illegal immigration.

He, like so many other Republican figures, will have to decide whether or not to support Mr. Trump in the general election.

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NPR radio host: So what are you going to do?

Senator Flake: You know, I don't know. I'm still in the first stage of grief, denial, I guess, at this point. But got to move past it and we'll see.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush opted to stay silent and out of the spotlight completely – a kind of isolation that other Republican figures may not be able to afford.

Lashing out

Resorting to burning things – as in one's Republican Party registration card – qualifies as lashing out. And there was plenty of that going around in the wake of Mr. Trump emerging as the presumptive presidential nominee.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has been on a tear for months, attacking the Republican candidate Mr. Trump and vowing that he could never vote for him because it would be a betrayal of his conservative values.

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This week, Mr. Sasse is thinking outside the box.

It may be wishful thinking – a U.S. conservative launching an independent presidential bid but there can be no doubt where that idea comes from: a deep resentment over the New York billionaire's takeover of the Republican Party.

Let's make a deal

There is a way that some Republicans might come around to supporting Mr. Trump – so long as he changes.

These Republicans are hoping to strike a deal with the presumptive nominee in exchange for their support.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, who backed Jeb Bush in the nominating contests, said in a radio interview that she would wait until the national convention in July in Cleveland to decide whether to support Mr. Trump.

"Donald Trump has the opportunity to unite the party, but if he's going to build that wall that he keeps talking about, he's going to have to mend a lot of fences. He's going to have stop with gratuitous personal insults," she told a Portland radio station.

She is not alone in putting conditions on any future support.

Former U.S. congressman and MSNBC television host Joe Scarborough wants Mr. Trump to drop some of his controversial ideas.

Deep in a funk

Countless ordinary, life-long Republican voters are in a funk over what has happened to their Grand Old Party and its hijacking by The Donald.

Some may not be motivated enough to hold their nose and vote for the Republican presidential ticket on Nov. 8. But it takes a special kind of disappointment to vote for the other party.

That is the step Mark Salter, a former senior aide to Senator John McCain, is planning to take.

He is not alone. Several other Republicans have taken to social media to say that they will back Ms. Clinton.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look set for an ugly battle for the White House after a bruising primary season.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look set for an ugly battle for the White House after a bruising primary season.

AFP/Getty Images

Dispassionate acceptance

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who supported Senator Marco Rubio's bid for the party's nomination and who spoke out against Mr. Trump's more controversial comments, delivered among the most lukewarm responses to Mr. Trump as the presumptive nominee.

"I have great respect for the will of the people, and as I have always said, I will support the Republican nominee for president," she said in a statement on Wednesday.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio at a Rubio campaign event in Chapin, South Carolina, in February.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio at a Rubio campaign event in Chapin, South Carolina, in February.

CHRIS KEANE/REUTERS

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered his own version of dispassionate support.

"Republicans are committed to preventing what would be a third term of Barack Obama and restoring economic and national security after eight years of a Democrat in the White House. As the presumptive nominee, [Donald Trump] now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals," he said.

Grudging acceptance

Former Louisiana governor and failed Republican leadership candidate Bobby Jindal, who once called Mr. Trump a "madman" who must be stopped, told CNN on the day of the Indiana primary: "If he is the nominee, I'm going to be supporting my party's nominee. I'm not happy about it …but I would vote for him over Hillary Clinton."

Perhaps the best response to the Trump news this week comes by way of a journalist who shared this encounter with Virginia's former Republican governor, Jim Gilmore.

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