Trump Withholds Ryan, McCain Backing as Payback Roils GOP
August 2, 2016 — 5:06 PM EDT | Updated on August 3, 2016 — 8:10 AM EDT
“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country,” Trump told the newspaper. “We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet.”
By choosing that phrasing, the New York billionaire was pointedly using almost identical language to what Ryan had used earlier this year when he spent several weeks evaluating whether or not to support Trump. In early May, Ryan said, "I’m just not there yet," before eventually backing Trump on June 2.
Ryan has disagreed with Trump several times -- including over his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and his remarks about a Hispanic federal judge -- and during the weekend indirectly took issue with Trump’s belittling of the parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, killed in Iraq in 2004.
"Neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Donald Trump’s endorsement," Zack Roday, a Ryan campaign spokesman, said in a statement. "And we are confident in a victory next week regardless."
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who is from Ryan’s home state, is said to be angry with Trump, TV networks reported Wednesday morning. Senior party officials are exploring options for if Trump were to drop out, which the nominee would have to do voluntarily, ABC News said without identifying its sources. Trump’s unpredictability and freewheeling messaging are driving the exploration, according to ABC. An RNC spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “I want to thank everyone for your tremendous support. Beat Crooked H!”
Trump’s latest interview deepens a split with McCain, who has periodically slammed the real-estate mogul’s remarks. The Arizona Republican issued a blistering statement against Trump’s disparagement of the Khan family Monday. At the same time, McCain has steadfastly repeated he will support his party’s nominee.
Doing otherwise would potentially risk losing his Aug. 30 primary in Arizona, a state that Trump won handily during the Republican primaries. If McCain wins that round, he likely will face a tough fight against Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick in the general election.
But many of the people around McCain have abandoned Trump, including members of his family and some of his former top aides, including Mark Salter.
The Post quoted Trump as saying in the interview, "I’ve never been there with John McCain because I’ve always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets."
Trump singled out Ayotte as a weak and disloyal leader in New Hampshire, a state whose presidential primary Trump won handily.
After the interview was published, Ayotte wrote in a Twitter post: "I call it like I see it and I’m always going to stand up for our military families and what’s best for the people of New Hampshire."
On Monday, Ryan took a subtle swipe at Trump during a private event for mega-donors, calling him “different” and “unique.”
Trump, for his part, on Monday even thanked Nehlen for his "kind words. Very much appreciated." Nehlen has been tweeting articles and comments supporting the Republican presidential nominee, even as Trump was getting hit by top Republicans for his comments about the Khan family.
Ryan and other Republican leaders are being squeezed between Trump and President Barack Obama, who on Tuesday urged them to repudiate Trump and rescind their endorsements.
That may make it harder for Republican officeholders who, while they may want to back away from Trump, don’t want to be seen by the party’s base as aligning with the Democratic president.
At a White House news conference, Obama said Trump is “woefully unprepared to do this job" and questioned how top Republicans, including Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and McCain can regularly denounce Trump’s statements while still supporting his bid for the presidency.
"The question I think they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?" Obama said. "What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?”
Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have been making appeals to Republican voters disillusioned by Trump, partly by portraying him as outside the party’s mainstream.