Republican frustration with Donald Trump has mounted following a series of startling statements from the nominee, including his refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan’s re-election.
However, there was no evidence that Republican officials were backing off their support of Mr Trump in the White House race.
Party chair Reince Priebus, a close friend of Mr Ryan, is deeply irritated by Mr Trump’s recent actions and his unwillingness to listen to the advice of senior advisers.
Mr Priebus has been speaking with campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the billionaire’s children, who are said to agree that Mr Trump needs to stop picking fights within his own party, according to a Republican official with knowledge of the conversations.
Mr Priebus and the Trump confidants, as well as numerous Republican politicians, have been particularly irked by the candidate’s repeated criticism of an American Muslim family whose son, a US Army captain, was killed in Iraq in 2004.
Mr Trump yesterday dismissed suggestions that the frustration was hurting his campaign. He wrote on Twitter: “There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before. I want to thank everyone for your tremendous support. Beat Crooked H!” — a reference to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump stunned Republicans by telling The Washington Post in an interview that he was not ready to endorse Mr Ryan, who faces a primary contest in Wisconsin next week.
Mr Ryan has backed Mr Trump despite deep differences on policy and temperament, and has encouraged other Republicans to unite behind the party’s nominee.
Mr Trump’s latest comments come on the heels of his criticism of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004. Mr Trump has said he himself was “viciously attacked” by the Khans, who appeared at last week’s Democratic convention and challenged the Republican’s fitness to be US president.
Former Trump adviser Barry Bennett acknowledged signs of poor morale among the campaign staff he maintains contact with, but said it would be silly to dismiss Mr Trump’s chances with three months to go before the election.
“This would be the end of any other Republican candidate in the history of the country. And he’s only five or six points behind,” said Mr Bennett.
The discord comes just two weeks after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that formally nominated Mr Trump for president.
It is the latest rift in a party already frayed by internal dissent over its standard bearer, seen in stark relief at the convention where John McCain was among high-level party members who essentially snubbed Mr Trump by choosing not to attend.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, and former presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush also did not attend the convention.
Mr Trump has had a running dispute with Mr and Mrs Khan since they took the stage at the Democratic convention to cite their son’s sacrifice and criticise Mr Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US.
The uproar has led many Republicans to distance themselves from Mr Trump and voice support for the Khan family.
Mr Trump, mirroring the language Mr Ryan used about supporting the nominee before his eventual endorsement, told the newspaper he was “not quite there yet” on endorsing Mr Ryan in next Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, and that he had “never been there” with Mr McCain, who will be on the ballot in primary elections in Arizona later this month.
Mr McCain had a “very friendly” meeting with Mr Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, on Tuesday in Arizona, where Mr Pence was visiting, a McCain spokeswoman said.
Mr Trump said Mr Ryan had sought his endorsement, but that as of now he is only “giving it very serious consideration”.
Mr Ryan’s campaign office quickly responded that “neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Donald Trump’s endorsement.”
“And we are confident in a victory next week regardless,” campaign spokesman Zack Roday said in a statement.
Mr Ryan is favoured to win against primary challenger Paul Nehlen, who Mr Trump praised as running “a very good campaign”.
In a mid-July survey by Harper Polling, Mr Ryan was ahead of Mr Nehlen by nearly 50 points.
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