PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Back on the defensive, Donald Trump’s campaign chief acknowledged conflict inside Trump Tower on Thursday as anxious Republicans struggled to shift voters’ attention to Hillary Clinton’s record on foreign policy.
The feud between the GOP’s presidential nominee and House Speaker Paul Ryan continued to overshadow fresh attacks on Clinton, underscoring the rising concerns from party leaders over the New York billionaire’s unorthodox candidacy and its impact on the future of the Republican Party.
At the same time, President Barack Obama dismissed as “ridiculous” Trump’s recent warning that the election might be “rigged” if he loses in November.
“My suggestion would be: go out there and try to win the election,” Obama said during a Thursday press conference.
Trump refused for another day to endorse the Republican speaker, though he said Ryan is “a good guy, actually.”
Ryan, meanwhile, publicly declared his support for Trump, but said such endorsements aren’t “blank checks” and pledged to speak out against the businessman’s divisive positions if necessary. Most recently, that means Trump’s sustained criticism of an American Muslim family whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq.
“I don’t like doing this,” Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station. “I don’t want to do this, but I will do this because I feel I have to in order to defend Republicans, and our principles, so that people don’t make the mistake of thinking we think like that.”
Campaign chairman Paul Manafort insisted Trump would work with Ryan if elected, but he conceded the endorsement question had sparked tension inside Trump’s New York campaign headquarters. The day before, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence broke with Trump and endorsed Ryan.
“There’s a conflict within the Trump campaign,” Manafort told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” `’We’ve sort of had a rule of not getting involved in primaries because it’s usually not a good situation for the presidential candidate.”
Facing Maine voters later in the day, Trump said he gave Pence permission to endorse Ryan.
“I say, `Mike, you like him? Yes. Go ahead and do it, 100 percent,”‘ Trump recalled of his conversation the day before, interrupting his audience when they began to boo Ryan.
“Paul Ryan’s a good guy, actually,” Trump added.
As Republican infighting dominated the 2016 presidential race for another day, Trump and his Republican allies lashed out at the Democratic presidential nominee’s foreign policy record.
Specifically, they contended that Clinton was responsible for negotiations that led to a $400 million U.S. payment to Iran earlier in the year. Trump and some other Republicans have described the money as ransom payment for four Americans detained in Iran days before the money was delivered.
“It’s so sad, so disgusting,” Trump said of the payment as he campaigned in Maine. At his news conference, Obama strongly rejected the idea the $400 million was a ransom. “This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” Obama said of a payment that was part of a decades-old dispute over a failed military equipment deal.
As Trump used the issue to assail Clinton, he faced new questions about his description Wednesday, and again on Thursday, of video he suggested was taken by Iranian forces removing bags of money from a plane.
It’s unclear what footage Trump was referring to.
Several senior U.S. officials involved in the Iran negotiations said they weren’t aware of any such video. Trump’s campaign said the GOP nominee had not seen a tape as part of any security briefing.
In an email, a campaign spokeswoman said Trump was simply referring to video aired on television this week, although no such footage of payment to Iranians was shown.
At the same time, Clinton criticized Trump for outsourcing at his companies the very jobs he’s promising to create back home.
“Everything he’s made he’s made somewhere else,” Clinton said as she toured a Las Vegas electric manufacturer Thursday afternoon. “I’ve met people who were destroyed by Donald Trump, so take a look at what he’s done, not what he says.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s missteps have caused widening ripples of anxiety among Republican officials with the election just three months away.
Concerned congressional Republicans are asking about Trump “hourly and daily,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a leading Trump emissary on Capitol Hill.
“What the heck’s going on? Why aren’t we focused here? … Why are we caught up in these sideshows?” Hunter asked, describing the questions raised by his colleagues.
Hunter said he’s not concerned: “It is what it is. There’s no reassuring. Trump is Trump.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Thursday dismissed reports that he was planning an “intervention” with top Trump allies, including GOP Chairman Reince Priebus and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to urge Trump to abandon tactics that have triggered sinking poll numbers and low morale.
“I meet with Donald Trump all the time,” Giuliani told the Fox Business Network, suggesting that Gingrich used the word “intervention” in a recent memo.
“He is a new candidate,” Giuliani said of Trump. “That adds a little bit of — more of a learning curve, than would normally be the case.”
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