Donald Trump, the lone political survivor of a riotous GOP primary, is embarking on another campaign, this time to show — not just tell — Republican leaders that he's a conservative who will unite the party and help the GOP hang on to its congressional majorities.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Call it Donald Trump’s trust-me tour of the Republican establishment.
The lone political survivor of a riotous GOP primary is embarking on another campaign, this time to convince wary Republican leaders to sign on to his improbable turn as their presidential nominee. Trump is seeking to show — not just tell — that he’s a conservative who will unite the party and help the GOP hang on to its congressional majorities.
Trump’s branding effort is showing signs of working: He’s collected some key endorsements on Capitol Hill. And some critics, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, have muted their nastygrams. But he’s working in what could be a very short window, while likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton labors to vanquish Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stubborn challenge. And it’s far from clear how long Trump and top Republicans can remain on their best, most unified behavior.
Here’s a look at Trump’s drive for buy-in from the GOP establishment:
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TRUST ME: I’M A CONSERVATIVE
It’s one of the top GOP concerns about Trump: He wasn’t a Republican for most of his public life, so how conservative could he be? Who Trump would nominate to the Supreme Court, which now has one vacancy and almost surely will have more in the coming years, has lingered as a key question. House Speaker Paul Ryan discussed the issue with Trump at their meeting last week; the billionaire assured Ryan he’d release a list of potential nominees, “soon.”
He demonstrated follow-through: On Wednesday, Trump named 11 federal and state court judges he’d consider as potential replacements for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, any of whom would restore conservative control of the court lost with his death. The group was widely praised as a conservative dream team.
TRUST ME: I’M A LOYAL REPUBLICAN
Trump has said for weeks that he wants to unite the party and help it raise always-welcome political cash. On Thursday in New Jersey, he demonstrated one way how.
Trump attended fundraisers designed to help former rival Chris Christie and the state Republican Party pay down debt they incurred during the governor’s presidential campaign and the party’s legal bills from the George Washington Bridge scandal. Christie, who folded his presidential campaign and endorsed Trump, took a huge risk earlier this year to endorse the billionaire.
The pair attended a $25,000-per-person fundraiser for the state GOP to help it pay off about $500,000 incurred in legal fees, an event that could go a long way toward making that debt disappear. Trump and Christie headlined a separate, $200 per-person fundraiser to pay down Christie’s roughly $250,000 presidential campaign debt.
TRUST ME: THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE DOES
Trump and the RNC this week signed a joint fundraising agreement that will allow donors to write checks of up to $449,400. The agreement will allow the Trump campaign to raise cash that the national party can spend on both his campaign and other Republican efforts.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said will go toward expanding ground, data and digital operations to elect Republicans “up and down the ballot.”
TRUST ME: I’M RUNNING A PROFESSIONAL A CAMPAIGN NOW
The early iteration of Trump and a few inexperienced aides running the campaign has morphed into a more professional operation as Trump has brought in seasoned political operatives.
Political veteran Paul Manafort is running the convention operation; RNC Finance Chairman Lew Eisenberg will head up the joint fundraising project. And after suggesting that pollsters are a waste of money, Trump hired pollster Tony Fabrizio, who’s worked for GOP presidential candidates going back decades.
TRUST ME: I’VE GIVEN POLICY SOME THOUGHT
Trump caused much indigestion among Republican leaders in March when he said on MSNBC that women who have abortions should be punished — then changed positions and settled on leaving the law the way it is. Then-rival Ted Cruz groused that Trump clearly hasn’t given “serious thought” to policy.
Trump has sought to refute that impression, giving a foreign policy speech to the National Press Club earlier this month, an address to the National Rifle Association on Friday, an energy speech next week and beyond that, an address on economic policy.
TRUST ME: I’M LISTENING
Across the Sunday news shows last weekend, key Republicans described party unity as the education of Donald Trump — stat. Even his chief Senate ally, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who sits on the armed services committee, said Trump is “going to need to learn. He’s going to need to understand really completely … how complex this world is.” Also on ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called him “a work in progress.” And Ryan has refused so far to endorse Trump.
But Trump is meeting with lawmakers and taking their calls. And his aides, including Manafort, are shuttling between meetings with members of Congress and policy think tanks taking suggestions for policy papers.
For all of this stated open mindedness, though, Trump was quoted by the New York Times last weekend: “Just what I need is more advice. The (Republicans) I beat are still giving me advice.”
Follow Laurie Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman