GOP leaders stress 'hopeful vision' and big tent in response to Trump

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BALTIMORE — Republican leaders emphasized the optimism and inclusiveness of their party Thursday when asked about tensions with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: 'I’m just flabbergasted’ by Clinton-Lynch meet Trump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign GOP megadonor compares Trump to Biblical figures MORE, who is leading the polls by pitting himself against the establishment.

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Leaders attending the second annual joint Senate-House Republican retreat applauded the forceful rebuttal to Trump’s rhetoric delivered Tuesday evening by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley after President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“She presented a face and a voice for our party that really is what we’re all about, and that is growing our majority, obviously, reaching out to more people across this country, presenting ideas that we think our compelling that will attract people to join our vision,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneGingrich, Christie top Trump’s VP list: report Congress must resolve net neutrality once and for all Facebook offers set of 'Values' to reassure users of neutrality MORE (S.D.), who organized the retreat with House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersGOP campaign chief: Turn up the heat on Clinton GOP rep: Ryan's agenda to restore representative government Restoring the VA's promise to veterans MORE (Wash.).

Thune acknowledged that in a presidential campaign, “the rhetoric gets kind of hot.”

While it’s to be expected that presidential candidates are giving voice to frustrations over stagnant incomes and limited economic opportunity, Thune warned them not to focus exclusively on a negative message.

“Ultimately I think people want those they vote for and elect to office to appeal to their hopes. I think articulating a hopeful vision, a clear agenda for the future is going to be critically important,” the senator said. 

McMorris Rodgers endorsed Thune’s comments.

“Part of why we are hear today is because we are a broad, diverse group of people. We welcome the competition of ideas. We also believe that it is very important as we head into 2016 that we are articulating as representatives in the House and the Senate what are our specific policy solutions” to grow the economy and increase jobs, she said.

Trump has led the Republican presidential field for months in national polls by hammering the theme of a nation in decline.

His latest book is titled, "Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again."

He has been regularly criticized by media pundits as a divisive candidate for mocking political correctness and painting many illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals.

Haley this week took aim at what has been broadly seen as Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and urged fellow Republicans in her Tuesday address not to give in to inciting rhetoric.

“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” she said. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

Thune and McMorris Rodgers were the first leaders to speak publicly at the multi-day retreat.