GOP Leaders Fear Damage to Party’s Image as Donald Trump Doubles

Karen Tumulty et al., Washington Post, July 8, 2015

The head of the Republican National Committee, responding to demands from increasingly worried party leaders, spent nearly an hour Wednesday on the phone with Donald Trump, urging the presidential candidate to tone down his inflammatory comments about immigration that have infuriated a key election constituency.

The call from Chairman Reince Priebus, described by donors and consultants briefed on the conversation and confirmed by the RNC, underscores the extent to which Trump has gone from an embarrassment to a cause for serious alarm among top Republicans in Washington and nationwide.

But there is little they can do about the mogul and reality-television star, who draws sustenance from controversy and attention. And some fear that, with assistance from Democrats, Trump could become the face of the GOP.

Rather than backing down from his comments about illegal immigrants–whom he characterized as rapists and killers, among other things–Trump has amplified his remarks at every opportunity, including in a round of interviews Wednesday.

He insisted to NBC News that he has “nothing to apologize for” in his repeated remarks about Mexicans. But he also predicted that, if he secures the GOP nomination, “I’ll win the Latino vote.”

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Priebus’s decision to reach out to Trump came after days of talks with Republican donors and officials about how best to manage Trump’s outsize presence on the airwaves. Many financiers who are influential at the RNC have been fuming about Trump’s ascent and told Priebus that he must ensure that the RNC’s efforts over the past year to win more of the Hispanic vote is not harmed.

Reluctant to engage publicly and having developed a friendship with Trump in recent years, Priebus decided to call the candidate and quietly ask him to soften his pitch, said GOP donors familiar with Priebus’s thinking. Trump had left a voice-mail message for Priebus over the weekend asking if they could catch up, making the call’s context less confrontational, the donors said.

The call lasted about 45 minutes, the donors said, and Priebus was cordial, updating Trump on the party and the primary calendar while also urging him to “tone it down”–a phrase used repeatedly by those with knowledge of the exchange. Priebus told Trump that making inroads with Hispanics is one of his central missions as chairman. He told Trump that tone matters greatly and that Trump’s comments are more offensive than he might imagine with that bloc.

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At the same time, however, Trump is perhaps the most vocal part of a current of outrage on the right–both at the influx of people coming across the border and over proposals to liberalize the nation’s immigration laws.

“The fact that he is rising in the polls has something to do with tapping into an angst and anger, especially on immigration, that the other candidates have been unwilling or unable to harness,” said Reed Galen, a Republican operative based in California.

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One GOP state party chairman, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could be frank, said of Trump: “He’s already done some damage, and it could be substantial going forward. He could be one of the reasons we lose. It’s that serious. There’s nothing we can do about it, and that’s what’s so scary.”

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Trump is slated to campaign Saturday in Arizona and Nevada, states with heavily Latino populations, and plans to discuss immigration.

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[Editor’s Note: In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, Donald Trump is leading nationally.]

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