US Elections 2016

Trump's peacemaking session turns ugly

Protesters gathering outside Trump Tower in New York City on Thursday to demand that retailer Walmart rescind its support for the Republican National Committee.
Protesters gathering outside Trump Tower in New York City on Thursday to demand that retailer Walmart rescind its support for the Republican National Committee.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He lashes out at Republican lawmakers over criticism but manages to mend ties with Cruz

WASHINGTON • A peacemaking summit meeting between Republican lawmakers and their renegade presidential hopeful, Mr Donald Trump, descended into an extraordinary series of acrid exchanges, punctuated by Mr Trump threatening one Republican senator and deriding another as a "loser".

Mr Trump arrived in the capital on Thursday with hopes of courting sceptical House and Senate Republicans and mending his ties with Senator Ted Cruz, his former nomination rival, in a blitz of face-to-face meetings. But the friendly atmosphere turned fraught when he lashed out in the face of direct criticism.

The tension reflects the lingering fissures in a Republican Party that continues to grapple with Mr Trump as its standard-bearer, and underscores Mr Trump's limitations when it comes to unifying the party and moving beyond political grudges.

He has disappointed some members of the party who have hoped that his campaign would become more disciplined, but instead have seen him dwell on and repeat his own missteps rather than maintaining a focused offensive against presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

His private meeting on Thursday with 41 Senate Republicans, including some who have publicly criticised him repeatedly, grew acidly contentious, according to multiple lawmakers and other people present who insisted on anonymity to candidly recount the proceedings.

Mr Trump at one point jabbed at Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has openly called for a third-party candidate to thwart Mr Trump's chances. He asked Mr Sasse rhetorically if he preferred to have Mrs Clinton as president.

Mr Sasse did not respond in kind - but Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona did. Mr Flake said he wanted to support Mr Trump, but could not because of his statements about Mexican- Americans and attacks on a federal judge over his Hispanic descent.

Mr Trump responded by saying he had been going easy on Mr Flake so far, but he would ensure Mr Flake lost his re-election bid this year if the senator did not change his tune.

Dumbstruck, Mr Flake informed Mr Trump that he was not up for re-election this year.

Mr Trump even aimed vitriol at absent Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois - who recently withdrew his support for Mr Trump - according to people who attended the meeting.

He called Mr Kirk dishonest and a loser, and suggested Mr Kirk wanted to support him but was refusing to for political reasons, attendees said. Mr Kirk is among the most-embattled incumbent Republican senators seeking re-election in November.

Two aides to Mr Trump, who insisted on anonymity, insisted Mr Trump never used the word "loser" and that he never threatened to harm Mr Flake's electoral chances.

Despite the tense exchanges, Mr Trump's visit was not for naught.

He met and managed to reach an accommodation with Mr Cruz, whom he had not seen since their ugly nomination battle in May.

While there was no talk of an endorsement yet, Mr Trump invited Mr Cruz to speak at the party's national convention in Cleveland. Mr Cruz accepted it, according to his spokesman, Ms Catherine Frazier.

Some senators who attended the meeting said it was largely cordial and thoughtful, and played down Mr Trump's occasionally gruff tone.

"He didn't defeat 16 opponents by parroting Republican establishment talking points," said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a stalwart supporter of Mr Trump.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Trump's peacemaking session turns ugly'. Print Edition | Subscribe