Three days later, the GOP is tearing itself apart.
Friday brought another day of incredible division and revolt with Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham falling in line not behind Trump, but behind House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said a day earlier that he cannot yet support the brash real estate mogul as his party’s standard-bearer.
Trump, instead of trying to make peace, lashed out.
He fired off a vicious statement, calling Graham an “embarrassment” with “zero credibility.”
Then he laced into both of his former rivals during his rally in Omaha, Nebraska, where he is continuing to campaign ahead of Tuesday’s primary, despite having vanquished the rest of the GOP field.
“But I won’t talk about Jeb Bush. I will not say — I will not say he’s low energy. I will not say it,” Trump told a boisterous crowd who booed at the mention of his critics. “I will not say it. And I won’t talk about Lindsey Graham, who had like 1 point, you ever see this guy on television? He is nasty. … He leaves a disgrace, he can’t represent the people of South Carolina well.”
Trump also alternated on Friday between shrugging off Ryan’s bombshell announcement and scorching him.
During a phone interview with Fox News, Trump said he was “very, very surprised” at Ryan’s comments. “It’s hard to believe,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t bother me at all.”
His tweets, however, suggest otherwise.
“So many great endorsements yesterday, except for Paul Ryan!” Trump tweeted. “We must put America first and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Roughly 90 minutes later, Trump came back with a sharp critique of another comment Ryan made Thursday. “Paul Ryan said that I inherited something very special, the Republican Party. Wrong, I didn't inherit it, I won it with millions of voters!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The sharpest words, however, came from Trump’s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson. Not only did she say it’s incumbent upon Ryan to be the one bringing unity to the party, she suggested Ryan may be ill-suited for his current job.
Asked pointedly by CNN’s John Berman whether Ryan is fit to be speaker if he can’t come around to supporting Trump, Pierson responded, “No, because this is about the party.”
In the 10 months since Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his presidential bid in front of paid actors, the Republican Party has failed to coalesce around a strategy on how to marginalize the reality TV star.
Now that Trump’s the presumptive nominee, a full-bore GOP civil war has broken out, dividing the party into factions that are providing fresh headaches for Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Priebus on Friday tried to encourage his fellow Republicans to put down their arms. Sitting down for a one-hour conversation with POLITICO’s Mike Allen, the beleaguered party leader repeatedly stated that it’s just been three days since Trump became the presumptive nominee, and that it’s going to take time for Republicans to absorb their new reality.
Priebus said Trump understands that the party has to unify wide blocs of voters, and he dismissed the latest furor over Trump’s tweet celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a picture of him tucking into a taco bowl.
“He’s trying, and honestly, he’s trying and I will tell you what, I honestly think he understands that building and unifying and growing the party is the only way we’re going to win," Priebus said. "And I think he gets that.”
Playing the role of chief GOP diplomat, Priebus empathized with Ryan, who said on Thursday afternoon that he’s “not ready” to support Trump and that, “I think what a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard-bearer that bears our standards.”
Priebus said the speaker is “being honest, and I know how he feels.”
“And so, I'm comfortable with the idea that it is going to take some time in some cases for people to work through differences,” he said. “We talked about it and talked about it multiple times, and they're very comfortable with sitting down with Donald Trump, and it may be at my office, it may be somewhere else, but we're going to have that meeting to start the process of unifying.”
Ryan’s office announced later on Friday that the high-stakes meeting will happen next Thursday with Priebus in tow.
"Having both said we need to unify the party, Speaker Ryan has invited Donald Trump to meet with members of the House Republican leadership in Washington on Thursday morning to begin a discussion about the kind of Republican principles and ideas that can win the support of the American people this November. The Speaker and Mr. Trump will also meet separately, along with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus," the statement read.
The Republican leaders will have plenty to discuss, including the growing number of former Republican candidates who are ripping up their former pledges to the RNC to support the eventual nominee.
Lindsey Graham on Friday first issued a statement and then went on CNN — the same venue Ryan used — to explain why he can’t support Trump.
He said he couldn't back Trump because he doesn't think he is a "reliable Republican conservative, nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as commander in chief."
Jeb Bush took to Facebook to announce his disavowal.
“The American Presidency is an office that goes beyond just politics. It requires of its occupant great fortitude and humility and the temperament and strong character to deal with the unexpected challenges that will inevitably impact our nation in the next four years,” Bush said in his post.
“Donald Trump has not demonstrated that temperament or strength of character,” he continued. “He has not displayed a respect for the Constitution. And, he is not a consistent conservative. These are all reasons why I cannot support his candidacy.”
It’s not clear when Trump’s most recently downed rivals will announce their positions.
Ted Cruz, who dropped out Tuesday night after Trump’s blowout win in Indiana, has not yet indicated to people close to him what he'll do regarding an endorsement. John Kasich, who dropped Wednesday, has been quiet about what's next, but according to a source close to the governor, the early indicators are that he's unlikely to throw his support behind Trump.
But not everyone is forswearing the real estate mogul, with some stating that it’s important to bring the party together for its battle against Hillary Clinton.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday said he will support Trump, after previously calling the billionaire a “liberal Democrat.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who had endorsed Cruz, said he’s now all-in for Trump.
“I’m fully supportive of our presumptive nominee, and I do think Donald Trump will do well in the state of Indiana,” Pence told reporters, according to Indianapolis' Fox affiliate. “I’m going to campaign hard for the Republican nominee because Indiana needs a partner in the White House.”
And Ryan’s counterpart in the Senate isn’t on the same page, at least publicly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week offered a tepid endorsement of Trump, remarking in a statement that "I have committed to supporting the nominee chosen by Republican voters, and Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee, is now on the verge of clinching that nomination."
With Congress coming back to Washington next week, Republicans will have plenty to talk about.
In the meantime, there’s at least one Washington figure reveling in the GOP’s identity crisis — President Barack Obama.
He came out at the top of the daily news briefing to talk about the latest jobs numbers, but was clearly ready to talk Trump. When asked about Ryan’s stunning announcement from the day before, Obama told reporters — with a smirk — that he couldn't begin to guess what will come of the civil war.
"I think you have to ask Speaker Ryan what the implications of his comments are," Obama said.
Author: Nolan D. McCaskill