Donald Trump has broken the Republican Party. On Thursday, he took his most visible steps to fix it.
With a looming loss in Wisconsin vastly increasing the odds of a contested convention, Trump trekked to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, with whom he has had a lukewarm relationship.
The huddle came at a critical juncture for the Republican frontrunner, who is emerging from the most turbulent – and perhaps damaging – stretch of his campaign. It follows an array of negative headlines, stretching from the conduct of his campaign manager to questions about his position on abortion.
“Trump for the last two weeks has been stuck because the tactics that got him to this point will not lift him to the nomination, and will not lift him to a win in the general election,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has informally advised Trump.
Gingrich said that the real estate mogul would need to recognize the value of the RNC, which controls much of the party’s fundraising and infrastructure.
Those close to Trump say, despite appearances to the contrary, he’s interested in coalescing the party around him and reaching out to key GOP figures. “Just had a very nice meeting with @Reince Priebus and the@GOP. Looking forward to bringing the Party together — and it will happen!” he tweeted.
The RNC was tight-lipped about the meeting. “The chairman and Mr. Trump had a productive conversation about the state of the race,” an RNC spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, wrote in an email.
Trump and Priebus huddled for around 50 minutes in the chairman’s fourth-floor offices, where they discussed a number of logistical issues, including some related to the convention. Top advisers to both men were also present, including RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh.
The real estate mogul has had a fraught relationship with the committee, openly flirting at times with a third-party bid and often complaining about mistreatment from the Republican Party in general and the RNC in particular. The meeting came just two days after he disavowed his prior pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee.
The RNC was just one stop on Trump’s trip through Washington on Thursday. He also convened a meeting with members of his newly established foreign policy team and rolled out his U.S. House Leadership Committee. The group, which will be spearheaded by New York Rep. Chris Collins and California Rep. Duncan Hunter, is geared toward expanding Trump’s support among the Washington political class.
The outreach has been a continuous process, Hunter’s chief of staff Joe Kasper told POLITICO in a telephone interview Thursday, characterizing Thursday’s announcement as an “official stamp” on the efforts.
“A lot of the committee’s focus is going to be ironed out in the next few days with far more specificity,” Kasper said.
Hunter’s chief of staff will meet with Trump representatives next week; Collins’ office did not immediately respond to requests for comment seeking confirmation of its plans. Hunter and Collins were the first two members of Congress to formally endorse Trump’s bid on Feb. 24.
Trump’s volatility has been on full display over the past two days as he verbally attacked a reporter who accused his campaign manager of battery, disavowed the GOP loyalty oath, bemoaned the Geneva Conventions, and suggested that women should be punished for abortions if they become outlawed – before quickly reversing himself.
The fallout threatened to unravel the headway he appeared to be making after Super Tuesday, as it became clearer that Trump was marching toward the nomination. Trump’s spin through Washington earlier this month showed flashes of a more evolved candidate, as he delivered a commanding speech before AIPAC and huddled with lawmakers at the law firm of his election lawyer.
But the more recent tumult has eclipsed Trump’s attempts to close in on the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. Next week’s contest in Wisconsin is shaping up to be a tough one for Trump, with a poll released on Wednesday showing him trailing Ted Cruz by 10 points in the state.
And he faces a more existential challenge of healing the party he has spent months wreaking havoc on. A separate poll out Thursday found that just 38 percent of Republican voters said Trump would be able to get the party to “unite solidly” behind him if he becomes the GOP nominee.
Nick Gass and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
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