Trump likes idea of party unity, but on his terms

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Lynden, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump says he’s all for bringing together the Republican Party, but the many GOP officials he’s branded losers and lightweights will have to fall in line because the voters have spoken.

Trump’s strident rhetoric, in television interviews and campaign rallies over the weekend, are characteristic of his outsider campaign. But his latest verbal lashings, after moving from presidential front-runner to presumptive nominee last week, also suggest a candidate increasingly isolated from the very leaders he might need to support him ahead of a tough November election.

And if elected, Trump would need their helping in pushing his agenda through Congress.

For now, Trump is brushing off rejections by influential GOP officials and saying the party doesn’t have to be unified “in the traditional sense.”

“Look, I’m going to get millions and millions of votes more than the Republicans would have gotten” without me, he said.

At the same time, Trump complained that he was “blindsided” by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s refusal to endorse him. Trump said Ryan, R-Wis., had called him three weeks ago, after winning the New York primary on April 19, to congratulate him and that the two had a friendly exchange.

A Ryan spokesman said that phone call never happened. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said “Ryan disputed the time of the call, not the call itself.” She added, “I believe this took place in late March.”

Trump and Ryan plan to meet in Washington on Thursday. Ryan is on tap to be chairman of the GOP convention in Cleveland in July and would be considered by most politicians as a crucial ally.

Trump said his message to Ryan will be simple: “I’m going to say, ‘Look, this is what the people want.'”

The billionaire businessman is sending a clear message about party critics who are withholding support or planning to skip the convention.

He used the term “lightweight” to describe Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., once in the presidential race, and suggested former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another former rival, was still licking his wounds from the vicious campaign.

The party’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, Trump said, “blew the election” that year and never even thanked Trump for his work on Romney’s behalf.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 nominee, said it would take a lot for him to ever stand on stage next to Trump, even though McCain has agreed to support the party’s nominee. Last July, Trump said McCain — a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War who was captured after his plane was shot down and was held for more than five years — was a “war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

“There’s always wounds in spirited political campaigns,” McCain said in a TV interview. “But frankly, I have never seen the personalization of a campaign like this one, where people’s integrity and character are questioned.”

McCain said what Trump said about him, “that’s fine. I don’t require any repair of that.” But, he added, “There’s a body of American heroes that I would … like to see him retract that statement, not about me, but about the others.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, said Republicans must figure out something fast because Trump’s ability to win primary contests by relying on hard-line policies such as banning Muslims from entering the United States might not translate into general election success against the Democrats.

“If Republicans want to win, and we do, then we’ve got to change the approach because we’re not going to win taking these positions,” said Flake, R-Ariz.

Trump adviser Paul Manafort suggested the Republican establishment was surprised by the candidate’s rapid rise and therefore has been slow to rally behind him.

“There’s a lot that unites the leadership in the Congress as well as Donald Trump,” Manafort said. “But the important thing to remember is the national titular head of the party is the nominee of the Republican Party. He just won that overwhelmingly, faster than anybody in Washington thought and running as an outsider against Washington.”

Trump supporter Sarah Palin, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, said she would do “whatever she can” to help Ryan’s primary challenger in Wisconsin, small businessman Paul Nehlen, because the speaker “has so disrespected the will of the people” by failing to embrace Trump.

Trump appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Palin and McCain were on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Manafort was interviewed by “Fox News Sunday” and Flake was on NBC.

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