Donald Trump: Republican Party facing unprecedented splits as candidate continues to sow disunity

Newt Ginrich said things weren't as bad as they are for the British Labour Party.  Is that so?

David Usborne
New York
Wednesday 03 August 2016 17:15 BST
Usborne on Republican split

Donald Trump will every now and then deliver a plea for Republican Party unity. Those are the moments of sanity when he is thinking more or less like a regular candidate. It’s not electoral rocket science; if you want to be president it helps to have your party behind you.

Party unity is about discipline, however, and Mr Trump is the chaos candidate. Keeping everyone off balance is his modus operandi, including people who should normally be his allies.

He is also the candidate of microscopically thin skin. When he perceives a slight, considerations of party and strategy vanish. It matters not if the person who has flicked dust in his eye happens to be Republican. He will knock their eye out with a brick.

Yet all of a sudden the talk is about the party now coming asunder because Mr Trump has now committed the greatest sin yet, telling The Washington Post that he cannot back the re-election bids of either Senator John McCain in Arizona or House speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin. Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, is said to be “apoplectic”.

There was talk on Wednesday, even, of Mr Priebus and other top party officials confronting Mr Trump, in a sort of campaign intervention, to force him to start behaving the way they think they should. For the sake of the party and for his campaign. They see all hopes of turning the White House Republican again dimming fast.

The remarks to the Post, by the way, were an attempt first by their candidate to change the subject from the catastrophe that his vendetta with the parents of a slain Muslim-American soldier had become. It has more or less worked. But they are also merely a continuation of what Mr Trump has been up to months - tweaking his own party almost for fun, never mind the consequences.

Usborne on Trump - dropping out

In late March, I watched as Mr Trump paused while addressing a jammed hotel ballroom in Janesville, Wisconsin, to say how honoured he felt to be in the home town of Mr Ryan. It triggered a chorus of jeers and boos, to which he said: “Wow. I was told, ‘Be nice to Paul Ryan”

A Trump supporter close to this reporter, yelled out so everyone, including the candidate, could hear, “Throw him over the wall.” Mr Ryan, second in line to the presidency, that is. Mr Trump replied replied, “Really? I am very surprised at this statement.” Surprised, my backside. The candidate was deliberately making mischief. Party unity be damned.

Relations with Mr Ryan were later to turn more poisonous when he he publicly agonised over whether to endorse Mr Trump once the nomination was his. “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now,” the speaker famously told CNN in May.

Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, has backed Donald Trump
Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, has backed Donald Trump (Getty)

Note what Mr Trump told the Post this week about Mr Ryan. “I’m not quite there yet,” he said, with just a week before next Tuesday’s primary election in the speaker’s Wisconsin district. Mr Trump never forgets, never mind that Mr Ryan did eventually endorse him. He then went onto Twitter to express admiration for Mr Ryan’s challenger.

Maybe he too will come round and back Mr Ryan before it’s too late. But that is unlikely in the case of Senator McCain whose prospects in his 30 August primary are much more uncertain. Mr Trump just doesn’t like him. “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,” Mr Trump.

That terrible noise you hear is the GOP clinker groaning and splitting. After months of rough seas, the Republican galleon has now sailed into a full-blown hurricane, one set off by Mr Trump’s belittling of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of the dead soldier, and now his public dissing of Messrs Ryan and McCain.

President Barack Obama himself on Tuesday challenged his Republican colleagues to revoke their endorsements of Mr Trump. That isn’t happening yet. Even Mr McCain, a Vietnam War hero seemingly doesn’t have the guts to go there. But some in the party are starting to jump ship.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump said via Twitter, remarkably, insists that party unity is greater than "ever before". Meanwhile, Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, took to Fox News to push back against any notion that his boss had lost the plot entirely. Mr Trump "is in control of his campaign", he averred, adding, "the campaign is in very good shape".

On Tuesday, Richard Hanna, a Republican Congressman from New York, declared he would vote for Ms Clinton in November. (Brave-ish only, since he is not running for re-election.) That evening Meg Whitman, a top Hewlett-Packard executive and former Republican candidate for governor in California, called Mr Trump a demagogue and threw her support to Ms Clinton.

Vin Weber, who used to be New Gingrich’s number two in the House of Representatives, said on Wednesday he could no longer stomach the New York billionaire and would become a Democrat if he wins the White House in November.

It was Mr Gingrich, a former House speaker, who when asked about the spinning apart of the Republican Party by Sky News at last month’s convention in Cleveland replied: “Well, we’re much better off than the British Labour Party”.

Is that so? “Every where I go, I encounter disunity,” Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia politics professor, told CNN on Wednesday. “This is the story of 2016, the dissolution of the Republican Party and I don't know if they can come together when it is all over.”

Mr Trump has repeatedly been given the chance to forge party unity. Priebus, McCain, Ryan, they all endorsed him. So did Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. The RNC, guided by Mr Priebus, managed somehow to stitch together a convention in Cleveland that did not come asunder.

But the last few days have shown us beyond all doubt that Mr Trump has never given more than lip service to party unity. He isn’t binding the party together. He is willfully blowing it apart.

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