WASHINGTON/JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) - Donald Trump’s White House campaign was in turmoil on Wednesday after he angered senior Republican Party leaders by criticizing a dead soldier’s family and refusing to back the re-election campaign of House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.
On Tuesday, Trump denied support to both Ryan and Senator John McCain in their coming primary contests, hitting back at critics in the Republican leadership who have taken him to task for his insistent public dispute with the parents of the soldier, a Muslim U.S. Army captain killed in the Iraq war.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was furious over the failure to endorse Ryan, who is the most senior elected Republican, and over Trump’s feud with the Khan family, two Republican sources said.
“He feels like a fool,” a Republican source familiar with the situation said of Priebus.
The RNC did not respond to a request for comment about Priebus.
Another Republican source said Trump’s family members, who have played an influential role in his campaign, were aware that an intervention was needed to get Trump back on track. One idea being floated was to have a senior adviser travel with Trump to help him stay on message.
More than any other major figure in the Republican establishment, Priebus worked to bring Trump into the party’s fold despite the New York businessman’s status as an outsider. Trump, who had never previously run for public office, beat 16 rivals to become the Republican presidential nominee for the Nov. 8 election.
Ahead of last month’s Republican Party Convention, the RNC chairman sought to rally the fractured party behind Trump. Priebus feels burned by Trump’s string of self-inflicted wounds and his refusal to observe basic decorum by giving Ryan his support.
But in what appeared to be an effort to soothe ruffled feelings, Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, said on Wednesday he endorsed Ryan as “a strong conservative leader” and was doing so with Trump’s blessing.
The Indiana governor told Fox News that it takes time to build relationships in politics and that was exactly what Trump and Ryan were doing.
Trump has had a running dispute with the parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan since they took the stage at last week’s Democratic National Convention. Khizr Khan, with his wife, Ghazala, standing by his side, cited the sacrifice of their son, who was killed by a car bomb in 2004, and criticized Trump’s proposal to combat terrorism by temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.
Many Republican leaders, including Ryan and McCain, have criticized Trump’s subsequent attacks on the parents. Even longtime ally Chris Christie, the Republican New Jersey governor, said it was inappropriate to attack the Khans.
Trump’s feud with the Khans was the final straw for Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot and Iraq war veteran. Kinzinger, who had held off supporting Trump, told CNN on Wednesday: “I just don’t see how I get to Donald Trump anymore.”
Trump, who made his comments about Ryan and McCain in an interview with The Washington Post, shrugged off the backlash.
“There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before. I want to thank everyone for your tremendous support. Beat Crooked H!” he wrote on Twitter early on Wednesday, referring to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Campaign manager Paul Manafort told Fox News the campaign was moving in a positive direction, with Trump himself in control. “The campaign is in very good shape. We are organized. We are moving forward,” Manafort said.
In Daytona, Florida, Trump said the news media’s coverage of him was dishonest.
“We’re doing quite well despite the fact that we get a totally false narrative,” he told supporters at a rally.
At another campaign event in Florida, in Jacksonville, Trump pointed out a group of families, known as Gold Star families, who have lost loved ones in war, calling them “incredible people.” He didn’t mention the spat with the Khans.
Trump’s always unruly campaign has been mired in disorder in recent days. On Monday, Trump fired Ed Brookover, a senior adviser hired as a liaison between the campaign and the RNC.
Ryan, who is favored to win next week in his race against primary challenger Paul Nehlen, appeared to be trying to ignore the snub from Trump. An aide to the speaker said he would not have time to meet Trump later this week, when Trump is expected to be campaigning in Wisconsin, Ryan’s home state.
The aide did not indicate whether anyone had requested a get-together of Trump and Ryan, but when asked whether they might meet to patch things up, the aide told Reuters, “The speaker has a full schedule – can’t back out of previous commitments in the (congressional) district.”
A Republican congressional aide said there was deep frustration on Capitol Hill that Trump keeps engaging in “petty spats.” The aide said congressional offices that support Trump got two sets of talking points on Monday from the campaign about the Khan situation but have not heard anything from the campaign about Trump’s Ryan comments.
The dissent over the Trump campaign also took other turns.
Late on Tuesday, Meg Whitman, a prominent Republican fundraiser and chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE.N), endorsed Clinton’s White House bid, calling Trump an “authoritarian character” and a threat to democracy.
In better news for Trump, his campaign and the RNC jointly raised $80 million for his White House bid in July, the campaign said on Wednesday. That was less than the $90 million Clinton raised along with the national Democratic Party the same month, but it was a substantial bump from past months.
A former reality TV star, Trump has won support particularly from white blue-collar workers who feel neglected by the political establishment. Along with his proposed ban on Muslims, his plans have included building a wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and renegotiating trade agreements.
Opinion polls have shown Clinton benefiting from a boost after her party’s convention last week. The RealClearPolitics average of recent national polls put her 4.5 percentage points ahead of Trump, at 46.5 percent to 42 percent.
The Detroit Economic Club, where candidates usually appear to give major economic addresses, said Trump would speak at the club on Monday.
Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Alexander and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler