Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Briar Woods High School August 2, 2016, in Ashburn, Virginia.
Sources: Trump is frustrating aides and backers
02:38 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Washington is still trying to come to terms with one of the most bizarre days in recent campaign history

RNC chairman is especially frustrated with Trump's comments that he isn't endorsing Ryan

CNN  — 

Republicans are freaking out about Donald Trump, but the candidate himself is insisting his campaign has never been in better shape.

Trump took the stage in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Wednesday with his presidential bid apparently floundering. Republican leaders and even senior members of his own team expressed frustration with his political meltdown on Tuesday.

The GOP nominee tried to stem the growing panic – addressing the state of his campaign right at the top of his speech.

“The campaign is doing really well. It’s never been so well united. It’s the best in terms of being united since we began. We are doing incredibly well,” Trump said.

“I think we have never been this united,” said Trump, who went on to attack the Obama administration over the nuclear deal with Iran and the state of the economy.

It was that kind of rigid message discipline that has been lacking over the last four days as Trump has publicly feuded with the Muslim parents of a fallen US soldier and failed to hammer Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He infuriated many Republicans with comments Tuesday in which he said he isn’t endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan or Arizona Sen. John McCain as they face primary challengers.

Tuesday night, there were calls from within Trump world to Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie and others asking for help in trying to get Trump’s campaign back on track. According to a source familiar with the conversations, the calls were made to people whom Trump has historically listened to for political advice. The source did not know if there was any meeting set or any follow up to these calls. And in a call with CNN, the Trump campaign denied that there was such an effort underway.

One adviser who spoke to Trump Wednesday morning told CNN that Trump appeared surprised by the public reaction to his comments about Khan, and how big of an ordeal it had become. The adviser said Trump implied that he would stop talking about Khan and that he was planning to move on to other topics – like the $400 million that was flown to Iran. (The adviser couched this with: “(But) you never know what he’s going to do.”)

Even as Trump spoke at his Daytona rally, intrigue about the state of his campaign deepened.

A GOP source told CNN’s Dana Bash that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was especially frustrated because Ryan and Priebus, both from Wisconsin, are very close. The source said Trump refusing to endorse Ryan in his re-election primary was “personal” especially since Priebus has “taken on a lot of water” for Trump. “He takes this very personally,” said the source.

Priebus “does want to show his support” for Ryan, a source tells CNN.

The chairman has been the main point of contact between Trump and the Republican Party, on which the billionaire has been relying heavily since he lacks the political infrastructure of a conventional political candidate.

Priebus, who was said by the source to be incredibly upset with Trump’s behavior, had expressed his disappointment and frustration to several leading members of Trump’s entourage, the source said.

Donald Trump’s strange campaign gets stranger

Trump’s vice presidential running mate Mike Pence meanwhile contradicted Trump in an interview with Fox News and revealed that he had urged the billionaire to back Ryan.

“I strongly support Paul Ryan, endorse his re-election. He is a long time friend, a strong conservative leader,” Pence said on Fox News.

The GOP source insisted that there was no real movement yet to prepare for Trump exiting the race – a step that would be unprecedented in modern politics. But the source also noted that if the billionaire did quit before September 1, it would be theoretically possible for the GOP to come up with a nominee who could get on the ballot in enough states to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

The reverberations from Trump’s decision to go rogue on his own party ripped through the political world Wednesday morning.

Washington was still trying to come to terms with one of the most bizarre days in recent campaign history on which President Barack Obama slammed Trump as unfit for the presidency and the GOP standard-bearer effectively declared war on his own party by refusing to endorse Ryan and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is facing a tough re-election bid.

Former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer expressed the sense of bewilderment settling over the political world when he reflected on Trump’s take-no-prisoners political style.

“He is such a good counter puncher that he is knocking himself out,” Fleischer said on CNN’s “New Day.” “If he would focus on Hillary, if he’d focus on the economy, if he’d talk (President Barack) Obama and we don’t want a third term, he could win this race. He’s hurting himself and hurting the cause.”

Road to 270

A knowledgeable Republican source told CNN Tuesday that some of Trump’s campaign staff – even campaign chairman Paul Manafort – “feel like they are wasting their time,” given their boss’s recent comments.

But Manafort insisted to CNN Wednesaday that isn’t true and any frustration centers on the media.

“Frankly the frustration we have is with you all,” he said during a telephone interview, “because you’re not covering our side of the campaign. That’s our frustration. We understand you want to focus on some of the issues against us, but the reality is we don’t think you’ve given us equal treatment on the other side.”

Manafort said the controversy surrounding the military family “shouldn’t have been that important in the context of the broader campaign. …We wanted to keep the focus on (Hillary Clinton’s) record and on the Obama administration that she was a part of, and things that she put into play, not us.”

Manafort was joined in the room on the call with CNN’s Dana Bash by nearly all of the campaign’s senior staff, including Rick Gates, Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, as part of an aggressive show of force to push back against suggestions of frustration.

Still, two Trump insiders said Priebus has talked to Trump several times in recent days, conveying the dismay among senior party leaders and donors.

It has been relayed to Trump that he is losing what tenuous support he has in the party establishment, and that already skeptical donors are heading for the exits or telling the senior team can’t count on serious progress when he looks so toxic.

“(Manafort) has made clear no one can help him if no one believes he will do what it takes to win,” said a senior Trump aide.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller rejected suggestions that Manafort is “mailing it in” as “completely erroneous.” The campaign “just finished up our strongest month of fundraising to date, we’re adding talented and experienced staffers on a daily basis and Mr. Trump’s turning out bigger, more enthusiastic crowds than Hillary Clinton ever could.”

CNN’s MJ Lee contributed to this report.