Trump Vows He Will Go It Alone If Necessary
Republicans have all but run out of reasons to hope their presumptive presidential nominee might change his tune.
And Donald Trump is doing nothing to console or encourage them, even after a series of transgressions he made just this week. Instead, the GOP standard-bearer effectively told party leaders: sit down, and shut up.
"Our leaders have to get a lot tougher. And be quiet. Just please be quiet. Don't talk. Please be quiet,” Trump said at a rally in Atlanta Wednesday afternoon. “They have to get tougher, they have to get sharper, they have to get smarter.”
The directive comes as Trump finds himself again embroiled in controversy and bad news of his own making.
The aftermath of the deadliest shooting in American history presented the party with an opportunity to show leadership in a time of crisis and anxiety, and at a time when voters believe the country is on the wrong track and think Trump is better at handling national security and terrorism issues than Hillary Clinton.
Instead, GOP leaders and lawmakers find themselves again wringing their hands over Trump's actions, going to great lengths to avoid mentioning his name altogether. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the GOP’s whip, told Politico he wouldn’t comment on Trump until November 8. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference he would not answer questions about his party’s nominee. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who once ran for president, told an AP reporter that the party didn’t technically have a nominee yet.
With a month to go before the national convention in Cleveland, challengers and incumbents who will share a ballot with Trump in November have moved on to shape their own races and tactics in this environment. Congressional leaders may not be far behind.
Since Sunday’s attack in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 dead and many more wounded, Trump has only exacerbated his party’s concerns about him: He congratulated himself for calling the shooting an act of terror, suggested that President Obama sympathized with ISIS terrorists, expanded his call to temporarily ban Muslims from the country to include immigrants from regions of terrorist activity, and banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign in light of a negative headline.
At a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday, Trump criticized soldiers for stealing money in Iraq, though his campaign argued the candidate was referring to Iraqi soldiers. And on Wednesday, Trump said he would meet with the National Rifle Association to discuss banning anyone on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying guns.
Trump’s blunders are compounded by the fact that he doesn’t have many GOP officials or prominent surrogates to defend or promote him. His campaign infrastructure is lacking to the point that it’s causing real concern among party members, especially candidates who would rely on that network for their own races.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who has met with Trump and had praised an earlier foreign policy speech, said he continues to be discouraged by the direction of the campaign, telling NBC that Trump’s address Monday was not “the type of speech that one would give who wants to lead this country through difficult times."
A new Bloomberg poll found Trump falling 12 points behind Clinton, with his negative ratings hitting a historical high of 70 percent, and 63 percent of women saying they would never vote for him. The poll also found, however, that voters believed Trump would handle terrorism and attacks like the one in Orlando better than Clinton, underscoring why Republicans believe Trump missed a big opportunity this week to draw substantive contrasts on this issue.
A CBS News poll showed Trump receiving negative grades for his comments about the Orlando attacks. A Marquette University poll of battleground Wisconsin found Clinton leading Trump by nine points in a state Republicans had hoped to flip.
Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, a friend of Trump ally Chris Christie, said he would not vote for Trump in November, joining fellow Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Rick Snyder of Michigan.
And it’s only Thursday.
The series of controversies this week comes after Trump was rebuked by many in his party for his criticisms of the judge presiding over one of his lawsuits. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump’s argument that the judge was treating him unfairly because of his Mexican heritage was racist. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, embroiled in the toughest re-election fight this cycle, rescinded his support of Trump.
Last week, Trump gave a toned-down speech in an attempt to move on. But he didn’t apologize, and in a related interview told Republican leaders to “get over it.” And that controversy was preceded by one in which Trump railed against the press for holding him accountable for donations he claimed to have raised for veterans.
Trump has warned Republicans that he wouldn’t change -- and that he doesn’t see the need to. In his view, he emerged the victor of the most crowded primary field in history, activating a dormant GOP voter base with an outsider campaign that rebuked the establishment and status quo politics.
After he effectively clinched the nomination, Republicans quickly coalesced, and polls found a highly competitive race between Trump and Clinton. Ryan, who had been reluctant to support Trump, finally endorsed him two weeks ago for the sake of party unity. Yet the House speaker has had to spend most of those two weeks denouncing controversial statements and behavior from the nominee while trying to promote his own agenda -- all while Trump refused to play ball. This week, for example, Ryan said Trump’s Muslim ban proposal was not in the country’s best interest and didn’t reflect its principles.
Clinton and Obama have waged a two-pronged attack on Trump this week in light of his comments. “Where does this stop?” the president said from the White House, giving his harshest criticisms to date of Trump.
During a national security campaign stop in Virginia on Wednesday, Clinton continued that thread. “His comments have become even more inflammatory in recent days,” she said. “This approach isn’t just wrong, it is dangerous.”
Still, Trump shows no signs of changing speed. During his campaign rally in Atlanta he proposed “respectfully” monitoring mosques and criticized Clinton for supporting Syrian refugees in the United States, even though the attacker in Orlando was an American-born son of Afghan parents.
“If we don’t solve it, it’s going to eat our country alive,” he said of America’s security threat.
And if this sort of rhetoric offends members of his party aiming to expand in a general election, Trump pledged to go it alone.
"We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well. I'm going to do very well,” Trump said in Atlanta. “ I'm going to do very well. A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I'll just do it very nicely by myself.”