In a bid to promote party unity and shore up his embattled candidacy ahead of the Republican National Convention later this month, Donald Trump met with GOP lawmakers from the House and Senate in two private meetings on Thursday.
The results were a decidedly mixed bag.
The Republican presumptive nominee’s Senate meeting was stormy, as Republicans present at the meeting told the Washington Post:
Trump’s most tense exchange was with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has been vocal in his concerns about the business mogul’s candidacy, especially his rhetoric and policies on immigration that the senator argues alienate many Latino voters and others in Arizona.
When Flake stood up and introduced himself, Trump told him, “You’ve been very critical of me.”
“Yes, I’m the other senator from Arizona—the one who didn’t get captured—and I want to talk to you about statements like that,” Flake responded, according to two Republican officials.
Flake’s preface was a reference to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, whom Trump criticized as “not a war hero” last July for being captured while serving in Vietnam.
More from the Post:
Trump said at the meeting that he has yet to attack Flake hard but threatened to begin doing so. Flake stood up to Trump by urging him to stop attacking Mexicans. Trump predicted that Flake would lose his reelection, at which point Flake informed Trump that he was not on the ballot this year, the sources said.
Rarely one to back down, Trump also reportedly laid into Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, who he characterized as a “loser” for withdrawing his endorsement of Trump last month, and Sen. Ben Sasse R-Nebraska, a holdout for the so-called never Trump movement.
Trump’s audience with upwards of 200 House Republicans at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, also on Thursday, went slightly better, according to Politico. Trump—flanked by his daughter Ivanka and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus—couched his remarks in terms designed to mollify nervous GOP legislators, many of whom have resisted Trump’s rise or declared they’ll be playing hooky when the Republican convention rolls around in less than two weeks’ time. Trump touched on “tax reform, protecting the 2nd Amendment, repealing Obamacare, and the likelihood the next president will determine the balance of power on the Supreme Court,” several Republicans present told Politico.
But he also mentioned the ongoing imbroglio involving his recent praise for Saddam Hussein and the lingering shadow of racist attacks he made against Hispanic Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and not every GOP lawmaker in the room was convinced.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm, you could feel it,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, remarked to Politico.
And even in front of an audience that applauded his entrance, Trump raised a few eyebrows by making basic errors about the Constitution he (probably) intends to defend. Rep. Mark Sanford, R–South Carolina, told reporters afterward that, when asked how he would defend Article I of the Constitution, Trump replied that he wants “ ‘to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII,’ going down the list.”
“There is no Article XII,” Sanford added.
“If you look at the trajectory of his unforced errors, he’s getting better,” Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, told the Post. “I mean, he’s not where we want him to be, but he’s getting better.”