GOP still cold on Trump after Curiel comment

Story highlights

  • Top Republicans continue to criticize Donald Trump's comments on a federal judge
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan said he hoped Trump 'can hopefully run a campaign that we can all be proud of'

Washington (CNN)Prominent Republicans are maintaining their distance from presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, even as he meets with party leaders and major donors try to forge a path to the White House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called Trump's blast against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel "the textbook definition of a racist comment" Tuesday, said Thursday he hoped Trump can improve, and if not, he will continue denouncing similar comments.
"Do I think these kinds of antics are distracting and give us a campaign that we can not be proud of? Yeah. I've spoken very clearly about it. But I think and hope and believe he can fix this to the point where he can hopefully run a campaign that we can all be proud of," Ryan told Milwaukee radio station WISN.
    But Trump's former rivals -- people he savaged in the Republican primary -- were even stronger Thursday. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one of 16 Republicans who fell to Trump, said he may not endorse the billionaire.
    "He's not yet the nominee. Officially that won't happen until the middle of July, that's the time frame. In particular, I want to make sure he renounces what he says with regards to this judge -- that flies directly in the face, and on the religious test alone, that's directly in conflict with the Sixth Amendment," Walker said in Madison, Wisconsin.
    And Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who said Trump called him a few weeks ago to press for his support, said Trump has gotten worse, not better, since the race ended.
    "Why would I feel compelled to support someone who's positions I kind of fundamentally disagree with?" Kasich told Fox News' Bill Hemmer Thursday. "I just wish that there was a change. But it doesn't look like there's been any change. It looks like its gotten worse."
    Trump tried to assuage concerns this week -- delivering a controlled speech with a teleprompter Tuesday night, actions he typically mocks -- and delivered a 700-word statement explaining that he would not be talking about the Trump University case anymore. But aides cautioned it was not a sign that it was not a sign he was fundamentally changing how he campaigns.

    National Security disagreements

    Later on Thursday, Ryan did an awkward dance on national security issues since there are areas where he disagrees with the Republican presumptive nominee.
    House Republicans presented a detailed description of the GOP approach on national security at the Council on Foreign Relations but tried to steer clear of areas where he differed from Donald Trump as he continued to roll out his 2016 policy agenda.
    The 25-page white paper gave a much more detailed snapshot of how Republicans would approach major threats of terrorism, diplomacy, military strategy and dealing with a global economy than Trump has outlined so far. And it did diverge from the billionaire businessman on some key issues.
    On immigration, House Republicans didn't include plans to build a wall at the southwest border, as Trump has called for, and instead focused on beefing up security measures, including faster "deployment of fencing, technology, air assets, and personnel at the border." GOP members criticized the Obama administration for ignoring immigration laws already in place.
    The House GOP plan also stressed "the importance of transatlantic alliances and modernizing NATO" which stands in contrast to Trump's preference to press close allies to take more responsibility financially and militarily for key conflicts around the globe.
    Top House Republicans said they hoped Trump would read their plan, but during a question-and-answer session they were left to walk a fine line between backing the GOP nominee and rebuking some of his key positions.
    Pressed about Trump's proposed ban of Muslim foreigners from entering the U.S., House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul noted that he's always said banning an entire race was wrong. He also warned the GOP nominee about his comments: "I've always said that we have to be careful in our rhetoric, because that can inflame the Muslim community and can in fact help (terrorists') recruiting efforts in some respects."
    Rep. Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee chairman, didn't mention Trump's name but when asked about the need for strong relationships with other countries, he said, "alliances are essential."
    Trump has also broken with top military officials by saying the U.S. should be able to use waterboarding, which has been classified as torture. But Thornberry advised that any commander in chief "abide by the law" and predicted members of the military would not violate any legal restrictions.
    Thornberry also recommended that those running for president "quit talking" in any detail about what they would do to in handling U.S. enemies, arguing many have "gone overboard."
    Ryan highlighted how the plan, developed with top GOP chairmen in the House, contrasted with President Barack Obama's approach to national security.


    Trump, who is still building the general election fundraising machine needed to take on the Clinton juggernaut, played down expectations this week. After initially saying he expected to raise upward of $1 billion to fight Clinton, he tamped down that number Wednesday.
    Trump and his team prided themselves on winning the primaries with a bare-bones staff and a modest budget. Aides expect him to take a similar tactic in the general election by hiring skeleton teams in battleground states but relying largely on the Republican National Committee and state parties to do the heavy lifting on the ground.

    Turning a corner

    Trump's small group of supporters on Capitol Hill were optimistic that Trump had turned a corner Tuesday and would be "staying on message" through the general election. Rep. Chris Collins, a leader among Trump's supporters in Congress, said they did not ask for assurances that there would not be another Curiel comment because they were confident Trump got the message.
    "We didn't ask for assurances. We all firmly believe Mr. Trump is going to be on message on policy, he's going to take the fight to Hillary Clinton, that's certainly fair game," said Collins, a New York Republican. "I think most of us realize that last week was a distraction, I believe Mr. Trump realizes that as well. And in the Lessons Learned column, in the Continuous Improvement column, I believe -- without it even coming up -- we're all comfortable moving forward."

    Still 'learning'

    But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been considered in the running for a spot on Trump's ticket, said Trump is still "learning" how to be a general election. Gingrich compared Trump's woes now to the "stumbling around" Ronald Reagan and his campaign did in 1980, while adjusting to being the Republican nominee.
    "The first time you get to be a presidential candidate -- which is a different league, not just running for the nomination, but actually the nominee -- it's a much tougher league and you've go to be more careful and you've go to think through what you're trying to say and I think he'll do fine," Gingrich said Thursday after he stopped in the Trump campaign's Hill meeting for a few minutes.
    Members of Ryan's House leadership team explained the difference between supporting Trump and fully endorsing him, in an interview with CNN's Carol Costello Thursday.
    "Listen, our party is united that we're not for Hillary Clinton. The question is 'Can folks put on a Donald Trump T-shirt?' And the reality is it's hard to do that given this current rhetoric. I don't believe Donald Trump's a racist, but he has made race-baiting comments," said Rep. Luke Messer, a Republican from Curiel's home state, Indiana.