Big-name GOP leaders piled on Friday against Donald Trump in an extraordinary show of Republican-vs.-Republican discontent over his winning the party’s presidential nomination. Trump just shrugged it off, declaring they didn’t really matter when compared to all the voters who turned out to vote for him in this year’s primary elections.
Trump grudgingly agreed to meet next week with Paul Ryan, the Republican House speaker whose statement a day earlier – he said he was not ready to embrace Trump’s nomination – set off the intraparty fireworks. Trump said he had no idea if they would patch things up and it wasn’t all that important anyway.
“The thing that matters most are the millions of people that have come out to vote for me and give me a landslide victory in almost every state,” Trump said moments after Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking Republican officeholder, announced their planned meeting.
Later in the day, two of Trump’s vanquished GOP rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, said they would not vote for him in November. That was a startling rejection by party leaders.
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Trump said of Ryan’s stance: “I figured, routinely, he would be behind me. The other day, he pulled a big surprise.”
The thing that matters most are the millions of people that have come out to vote for me and give me a landslide victory in almost every state.
He said he was not surprised about Bush’s stance and was tersely dismissive of Graham.
Of Bush, he said, “I will not say he’s low-energy,” reprising a jibe he used frequently during the primary campaign. He mocked Graham’s poor primary showing, saying, “Like the voters who rejected him, so will I!”
Ryan said his meeting with Trump would occur next Thursday and that Trump also would meet with other House GOP leaders. Discussions will center on “the kind of Republican principles and ideas that can win the support of the American people this November,” Ryan said.
The unlikely back-and-forth came a day after Ryan injected new uncertainty into the turbulent presidential contest by refusing, for now, to endorse Trump. Aides said that, far from seeking to helm an anti-Trump movement, Ryan hopes to exert a positive influence for the general election campaign after a nominating contest that has alienated women, minorities and other voter groups.
Yet Trump’s reaction Friday made it unclear what impact Ryan could have.
“With millions of people coming into the party, obviously I’m saying the right thing,” Trump said on Fox News Channel. “I mean, he talks about unity, but what is this?”
Democrats are generally steering clear of the Republican infighting, letting the party’s leaders tear at each other.
However, President Barack Obama did say when questioned about it at the White House: “This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show,” and candidates need to show they have the qualities to lead the world’s strongest nation.
As the reality of the GOP divisions sank in Friday, some Republicans were not shy about expressing their displeasure with Ryan. The telegenic Wisconsin Republican served as his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, was drafted to the high-profile role of House speaker last fall and is seen as having designs on the 2020 presidential nomination himself.
“Yesterday’s statement emboldens others to be equally publicly difficult. And that runs the risk of creating a Goldwater kind of moment where the party really does split,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Associated Press, referring to the 1964 Republican presidential nominee whose candidacy divided the GOP and was followed by a big Democratic victory.
“I don’t necessarily know that that’s his role, to be a sticking point for the Republican nominee,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, one of a growing number of Trump supporters in the House. Added Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania: “The voters of our party have spoken loud and clear, and it’s their voice that matters.”
Trump has criticized Ryan in the past and renewed his attacks Friday by arguing that Ryan and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “lost a race that should have been won” in 2012. Trump and Ryan also have disagreements on policy, from immigration to Social Security to trade.
In his latest surprising breach of orthodoxy, Trump questioned whether the U.S. government would make good on its commitment to fully honor Treasury notes, suggesting he might try to get a better deal.