No mending in sight for fractured GOP

Steve Peoples and Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — A fractured Republican party showed few signs of mending Friday, after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared his support for Donald Trump and Trump bashed House Speaker Paul Ryan for not falling in line.

“He talks about unity but what is this about unity?” Trump said of Ryan. “With millions of people coming into the party, obviously I’m saying the right thing.”

Ryan’s declaration this week that he wasn’t yet ready to embrace Trump sent shockwaves through the very Republican establishment that Trump is now leaning on for help as he transitions from the primary season to a general election campaign, most likely against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, President Obama offered a stern message to reporters covering the latest developments in an already extraordinary 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show,” Obama said in an afternoon press briefing.

The president urged reporters to take Trump seriously and vet him thoroughly. “Emphasizing the spectacle and the circus, that’s not something we can afford,” he said.

In a morning television interview, Trump said he had been surprised by Ryan’s comments.

“It’s not a good thing. It’s something the party should get solved quickly,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends.”

Trump says he will meet with Ryan, R-Wis., next week.

When asked about backing Trump, Ryan told CNN on Thursday: “I’m not there right now,” although he said he hopes to be eventually. “I think what is required is that we unify this party,” Ryan said.

Priebus broke with Ryan on Friday morning, declaring that he supports Trump as the party’s presidential nominee, even if he disagrees with some of his major policies such as banning Muslims from entering the U.S.

Next week’s meeting, Priebus said, will “start the process of unifying.”

“Paul’s just being honest,” Priebus said of the House speaker. “He says he’s not there yet, but he wants to get there.”

Priebus continued: “It’s going to take some time in some cases for people to work through differences.”

On choosing a running mate, Trump on Friday would say only that the person will not be a Democrat. He had indicated earlier this week following his win in the Indiana primary that he would likely settle on a political person with Washington experience — someone who could help him get legislation through Congress.

“I’m going to pick a Republican and we’ll have a tremendous victory,” Trump said Friday, noting he was particularly pleased to have the backing of former 2016 presidential campaign rival Rick Perry of Texas.

Trump’s advisers have begun conversations with the Republican National Committee on coordinating fundraising and tapping the committee’s extensive voter data file and nationwide get-out-the-vote operation.

RNC officials sent a draft of a joint fundraising proposal to the Trump campaign on Thursday that details how they would divide donations between the campaign, the national committee, the national convention committee and several state parties. The agreement, standard practice in modern-day campaigns, is expected to be finalized soon.

Trump on Thursday named a finance chairman, Steven Mnuchin, a private investor with ties to New York and Hollywood who has never led a major political fundraising team. Many major GOP donors have never heard of him — or even know how to pronounce his name (muh-NOO’-chihn). Like his new boss, Mnuchin has a record of giving both to Republicans and Democrats, including Democrat Clinton during her 2008 presidential run.

Trump has also received a cool reception from the 2012 GOP standard-bearer, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose vice presidential running mate was Ryan, and from former President George W. Bush. Neither Bush nor his father, former President George H.W. Bush has embraced Trump, and neither plans to attend the party convention in Cleveland in July.

The divisiveness within the top echelons of the party sends a clear signal to Republican fundraising networks, which include most of the GOP’s best-connected donors.

“You might have a lot of these donors sit on the sidelines,” said Spencer Zwick, who led Romney’s fundraising efforts and now serves as Ryan’s national finance chairman.

Trump has not yet ruled out accepting public financing for his general-election effort. Taking public money would dramatically limit how much he can spend this fall.

The billionaire acknowledges he would have to sell some of his holdings to personally muster the hundreds of millions of dollars for a general-election bid, something he says he doesn’t necessarily want to do.

Meanwhile, Ryan is positioning himself to play a central role in helping to protect vulnerable House and Senate candidates heading into the general election. The speaker has long been working on an “agenda project” that could give Republicans something to run on independently from their presidential nominee.