DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (AP) — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Tuesday that he is refusing to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, two of the party’s most powerful members. He also ripped into New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the same interview with the Washington Post. All three have primary challengers and each disapproved of Trump’s criticism of the Muslim American parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq.
Trump’s rebuke to Ryan carried particular derision.
“I’m just not there yet,” Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post, closely echoing Ryan’s demurral before he endorsed Trump, telling CNN on May 6, “I’m not there right now.”
Trump — who on Monday tweeted kind words for the speaker’s underdog primary opponent, Wisconsin businessman Paul Nehlen — told The Washington Post that Ryan had asked for his support, a claim the Speaker’s spokesman denied.
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“Neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Donald Trump’s endorsement,” said Zack Roday, Ryan’s campaign spokesman. “And we are confident in a victory next week regardless.”
The dustup marked a significant crack in the difficult alliance between Trump and the Republican establishment and raised the question of whether any GOP office holders who have endorsed the billionaire would rescind their support. Ayotte’s spokesman confirmed that she would not withdraw her endorsement, but spokesmen for the others did not immediately respond.
Trump said he refused to endorse McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, for not doing enough for veterans.
“I’ve never been there with John McCain because I’ve always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets,” Trump told the newspaper Tuesday.
As for Ayotte, who is running for a second Senate term and skipped the Republican National Convention, Trump said: “You have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot.”
“We need loyal people in this country,” Trump added in the interview. “We need fighters in this country. We don’t need weak people.”
McCain is a locked in a three-way race ahead of an August 30 primary in Arizona. The primary for Ryan’s House seat in Wisconsin is next week and Ayotte’s primary in New Hampshire is next month.
The trio each chided Trump for engaging in a flap with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart after his death in 2004. Khizr Khan criticized Trump’s position on Muslims and asked whether the real estate mogul had read the Constitution. Trump said the grieving father had “no right” to criticize him but later acknowledged their son is a hero.
McCain responded with a lengthy denunciation in which he said Trump does not have “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
Ryan condemned any criticism of Muslim Americans who serve their country, while Ayotte declared she was “appalled” by Trump’s spat with the Khans.
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