U.S. Sen. Dean Heller made a prediction on Monday: GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump won’t be the Republican nominee for president.
The Nevada Republican spoke on Monday at the “2016 Pregame,” an event organized by The Washington Post to preview the GOP debate that unfolds Tuesday in Las Vegas.
About 200 people attended the event at the MGM Grand. Heller answered questions from Post columnist Ruth Marcus.
Asked if he would support the GOP nominee, Heller said, “I will support the nominee of our party, some a little more enthusiastically than others.”
Of Trump, Heller added: “He will not be the nominee for the Republican Party, I can tell you that right now.”
Trump has seized the lion’s share of attention in the campaign, continuing to be the front-runner among GOP candidates in the polls, despite controversial statements about undocumented immigrants and banning Muslims entry into the U.S.
The billionaire businessman began his campaign with widespread name recognition, in part due to his role on the NBC reality show “The Apprentice.”
“America loves reality shows and that’s where we are right now — reality politics,” Heller said.
“We’re digging ourselves in a very, very deep hole,” he said, noting that Trump’s statements create problems for others, including Republicans running for Senate.
He said he believes that after the holidays the dynamics of the election will change, as it gets closer to the Nevada GOP caucus.
Heller said he believes the average Nevada voter is not paying attention at this point to Trump’s race and that it will be a “completely different conversation” in February when the early voting starts.
Heller, who is supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the presidential election, isn’t running for re-election in 2016.
He was elected to the Senate in 2012, the same year GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost Nevada in the election to President Barack Obama.
After winning, Heller said he got a call from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and the two went out to dinner. Cruz’s interest was in Heller’s success in Nevada.
“Ted Cruz wanted to know how I did it,” Heller said, noting it was Cruz, not officials with the Republican National Committee, asking about Nevada.
Nevada is a crucial early state in the presidential nomination process, with February caucuses that will play a role in determining who gets the Republican and Democratic nominations.
After that dinner, Cruz went on to announce his run for president and take the debate stage.
On Bush, Heller said there’s no reason for Bush to drop out of the race, noting that he was likely the “most conservative governor in the country” when in office.
Bush has struggled to gain traction in the polls, placing behind other candidates, including Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Heller will become the Silver State’s senior senator with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid, also the Senate minority leader, isn’t running for re-election in 2016. Heller said the two have their differences, but get along.
The event also had a panel discussion moderated by Post chief correspondent Dan Balz and featuring Hugh Hewitt, a talk show host; Frank Luntz, a pundit and chief executive of Luntz Global Partners; and Democratic strategist Rebecca Lambe.
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