Trump angers Republican Party
Donald Trump’s White House campaign was in turmoil on Wednesday after he angered senior Republican Party leaders by criticizing a dead soldier’s family and refusing to back the re-election campaign of House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.
On Tuesday, Trump denied both Ryan and Senator John McCain support in their coming primary contests, hitting back at critics in the Republican leadership who have taken him to task for his insistent public dispute with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of the soldier, a Muslim U.S. Army captain killed in the Iraq war.
Widely reported discontent inside of the Trump campaign and tensions with the party leadership have led to concerns in the party that other Republican political campaigns could be adversely impacted.
But at a rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, Trump insisted on Wednesday that all is well.
“The campaign is doing really well. It’s never been so well united. We started on June 16th. I would say right now it’s the best in terms of being united that it’s been since we began,” he said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was furious over the failure to endorse Ryan, who is the most senior elected Republican, and over Trump’s feud with the Khan family, two Republican sources told Reuters.
More than any other major figure in the Republican establishment, Priebus worked to bring Trump into the party’s fold despite the New York businessman’s status as an outsider. Trump, who had never previously run for public office, beat 16 rivals to become the Republican presidential nominee for the Nov. 8 election.
Ahead of last month’s Republican Party Convention, the RNC chairman sought to rally the fractured party behind Trump. Priebus feels burned by Trump’s string of self-inflicted wounds and his refusal to observe basic decorum by giving Ryan his support.
Observers say that the Republican party leadership is at its wits end with Trump.
“There’s clearly growing concern in the Republican Party hierarchy about the Trump candidacy. One day after another there’s a new statement that enrages someone. He doesn’t endorse their major party candidates. And so, yes, the alarm is growing inside the party,” said Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow and Research Coordinator at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank.
The fact that Trump seems to have personalized his disagreements with Republican leaders is making it increasingly harder for them to keep backing him, said Bowman.
“Some of them will stick with Trump and be silent. But that kind of personal pique that Trump has shown in terms of not endorsing leading candidates in the party, I think, is just one of the many thing in recent weeks that is just souring many people in the party on his candidacy. We really don’t know how much attention Americans are paying to all of this at this point – that’s very important – but certainly within the upper levels of the party, among activists, there’s more and more concern,” she said.
A spate of high level defections have also added to Trump’s woes.
Republican Congressman Richard Hanna has announced he will vote Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. And late on Tuesday, Meg Whitman, a prominent Republican fundraiser and chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise endorsed Clinton’s White House bid, calling Trump an “authoritarian character” and a threat to democracy.
Trump has also been criticized by some veterans groups for accepting a Purple Heart given to him by a veteran on Tuesday.
Displaying the gift at a rally in Ashburn, Virginia, Trump said he had “always wanted” one, a statement some took offense to.
“And he said that’s my real Purple Heart. I have such confidence in you. And I said, man, that’s like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier,” said Trump.
But while Trump has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent weeks, Bowman said Republicans angered at his antics may not be able to completely distance themselves from him.
“I don’t think the Republicans could afford to distance themselves from the presidential race to save many down-ballot candidates. I mean, clearly they’ll be pouring a lot of resources into those candidates but you’ve got to turn out overall Republican voters to save a Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, and all of the potentially vulnerable candidates. So even though they can deploy their resources very strategically I think they cannot, in the final end distance themselves completely from the top of the ticket,” she said.
Trump has had a running dispute with the parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan since they took the stage at last week’s Democratic National Convention. Khizr and Ghazala Khan cited the sacrifice of their son, who was killed by a car bomb in 2004, and criticized Trump’s proposal to combat terrorism by temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.
The Khan controversy more than anything has raised concerns said Bowman.
“Trump seems to step into it in one instance after another and I think taking on the Khan family was just beyond the pale to many Republicans, so that is what I think is driving the alarm in the Republican party,” she said.
Many Republican leaders, including Ryan and McCain, have criticized Trump’s subsequent attacks on the Khans. Even his longtime ally, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said it was inappropriate to attack the Khans.
Commentators say that the recent crisis in the Trump campaign has disabused the Republican leadership of their illusions that they can control the outspoken New York real estate billionaire.
“I don’t think that he has enough respect for the Republican National Committee, I think he actively disrespects the Republican National Committee. He’s shown them, you know. So I don’t think they have any ability to intervene. I think they’ve been living on this fantasy for a long time of, ‘if we support him and if we hold him up he’ll be grateful and we can intervene’, and that’s been proven wrong, that’s been proven dead wrong,” said Mark Schmitt, the head of the political reform program at the think tank, New America.
But Republican leaders snubbed by Trump have not yet wavered publicly in their backing for the party’s nominee.
House Speaker Ryan, who is favored to win next week in his race against primary challenger Paul Nehlen, has appeared to be trying to ignore the slight from Trump, who tweeted out praise for Nehlen.
And McCain testily responded to questions from reporters on Monday about how he could continue to endorse a man he has been profoundly critical of and who will not reciprocate his endorsement.
“I support the nominee of the party, and I’ll tell you what. Any time from now on, when that question was asked, if I change my mind, I’ll let you know, okay?” said McCain.
New America’s Mark Schmitt said that he believes Trump is becoming so toxic, Republicans seeking office this year will be forced to disassociate themselves from him.
“So I don’t know whether it happens today, tomorrow, next week, at some point they realize, we just have to do the damage control we can, our Senate candidates have to find a way to simply separate themselves from Trump, convince voters that they need, you know, a check on Hillary, a check on her excesses, you know not forcing them to vote for Trump. Again, it’s hard to imagine doing that. American political parties don’t do that, they don’t abandon their political candidates. But they have to figure out a way to do it,” he said.
A former reality TV star, Trump has won support particularly from white blue-collar workers who feel neglected by the political establishment. His plans have included the ban on Muslims, building a wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and renegotiating trade agreements.
Opinion polls have shown Clinton benefiting from a boost after her party’s convention last week, and leading Trump by as much as ten points.
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