DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump and some mainstream U.S. Republicans are engaged in a long-distance flirtation. Both sides are coming to the realization that they'll need each other if the billionaire businessman becomes the party's presidential nominee.
The Republican establishment is no fonder of Trump than when he first roiled the campaign last summer with his controversial comments about immigrants and women. But with voting beginning in just over a week, his durability atop preference polls has pushed some donors, strategists and party elders to grudgingly accept the prospect of his winning the nomination.
"We'd better stop hoping for something else and accept the possibility that he's our nominee and be prepared to rally around him if that's the case," said Fred Malek, a top Republican presidential fundraiser.
Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee who represented Kansas in the House and Senate for decades, said of Trump: "He's got this personality where I do believe he could work with Congress."
Trump, too, has started to suggest that he'd look for ways to work with Republican leaders if he wins.
"I'm a dealmaker who will get things done," he said Thursday during an event in Las Vegas. "There's a point at which — let's get to be a little establishment. We got to get things done, folks, OK?"
However, the establishment's growing acceptance of Trump's electoral prospects so far hasn't manifested itself in tangible support for his campaign. The real estate mogul has not been endorsed by any congressional lawmakers or governors, nor are there any indications of a big wave of major donors planning to get involved with his campaign, despite Trump's assertion that he's received "so many calls" from wealthy and influential Republicans.
If anything, the most visible signs of support for Trump's campaign in recent days have come from those who see themselves as outside the Republican establishment. Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and a favorite of the tea party insurgency, announced her support for him on Tuesday.
Much of the mainstream Republican reckoning with Trump is rooted in deep disdain for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the businessman's closest rival. Cruz is seen as more likely to try to upend the web of lobbyists, donors and other powerbrokers who have long wielded enormous influence in the Republican Party.
Liz Mair, a communications operative who is running one of the Republicans' few anti-Trump efforts, said donors affiliated with other candidates would rather let Trump beat Cruz in the early voting states than let their least-favorite senator gain momentum.
"They'd rather that he kills Cruz by winning in Iowa and New Hampshire and then try to take him down," Mair said.
Even as he's taken up the anti-establishment mantle, Trump has made some quiet overtures to Republican powerbrokers. He met with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson last year and has also reached out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, though he hasn't spoken directly with House Speaker Paul Ryan.
There are still big swaths of establishment-minded Republican voters and officials who staunchly oppose Trump's candidacy and believe both he and Cruz are unelectable in November. They say there's still plenty of time for a more mainstream candidate to mount a serious challenge.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are all seeking to beat expectations in Iowa, then be a top finisher in New Hampshire. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is also in the mix in New Hampshire.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from liberal insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders.