Nathan Deal’s careful tiptoe toward Donald Trump

January 21, 2016 Atlanta - Gov. Nathan Deal speaks during a press conference to announce an expansion plan of Kaiser Permanente at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, January 21, 2016. Gov. Nathan Deal Thursday announced that Kaiser Permanente, an integrated provider of health care and coverage, will create 800 jobs in metro Atlanta. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

One of the more careful recalibrations in Georgia toward Donald Trump has come from Gov. Nathan Deal. The two-term Republican cast an early ballot for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had dropped out of the race by the time Georgia held its March 1 primary. Deal was largely tight-lipped about Trump until he emerged as the party’s presumptive pick.

In an interview this week, though, Deal said he was disappointed by the criticism of Trump by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, past GOP standard-bearers who had to overcome their own concerns from conservative activists. It’s time for Trump’s staunchest critics to give him a second look, Deal added.

“Do I think that he will modify his positions or maybe explain them more completely? Yes, I think he will,” Deal said. “I’m hopeful that the leaders in positions of responsibility in our country will give him the opportunity to do that and to enlighten him when they think he’s misinformed. And I think he’s going to be willing to listen.”

It’s a tricky balancing act for Georgia’s top Republicans, who are nervous that Trump could do lasting damage to the party but also fearful of giving a Democratic presidential candidate an opening to win the state for the first time since 1992. They also recognize that openly bucking Trump, who won Georgia’s crowded primary with nearly 40 percent of the vote, could be politically perilous.

More: Georgia’s GOP leaders unite behind Trump, some more than others


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