Trump on shaky ground with GOP

Trump on shaky ground with GOP
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE is nowhere close to unifying the Grand Old Party.

Three weeks after winning enough delegates to clinch the presidential nomination, the New York billionaire is driving off some Republicans while giving others heartburn.

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Respected House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Thursday said he won’t endorse Trump, warning that the candidate has gone “off the track.”

Earlier, Richard Armitage, President George W. Bush’s former deputy secretary of State, said he’d vote for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? MORE.

Even Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the co-chairman of Trump’s House Leadership Committee, sought distance from his favored candidate on Thursday, telling reporters that they shouldn’t confuse him for a Trump surrogate.

“I am not a surrogate. I am a congressman. I can't speak for anybody else but me,” Hunter told The Hill later on Thursday, explaining his comments to other reporters.

“Everybody's asking me to explain all these things that he said,” Hunter added. “Some of these things, I don't know what Donald Trump is thinking. ... I don't know where Donald Trump is coming from.”

The real-estate mogul and reality TV star has faced weeks of bad headlines since he captured the nomination in late May.

A Politico story this week exposed deep divisions between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, saying the relationship was “plagued by distrust, power struggles and strategic differences.” And polls show Trump doing poorly with minority voters, specifically blacks and Hispanics.

Trump’s racial attacks against a Mexican-American federal judge and his decision to double down on his proposed ban on Muslim immigrants after the Orlando mass shooting were met with sharp rebukes from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) and other top party leaders.

Trump responded in kind, telling GOP leaders they needed to “get tougher” or he’d be forced to go it alone and lead the party.

“Don’t talk. Please, be quiet,” Trump said during a speech in Atlanta. “Just be quiet, to the leaders, because they have to get tougher, they have to get sharper, they have to get smarter, and we have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself.”

The ceremonial chairman of next month’s Republican National Convention, Ryan called Trump “a different kind of candidate. This is a different kind of year.” But the Speaker told reporters he had no plans to rescind his endorsement of Trump, as vulnerable Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThe global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year This week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill MORE (R-Ill.) recently did after the candidate bashed the federal judge.

“Look, we’re going to agree to disagree on some things. That’s just the way things work. Mitt Romney and I didn’t agree on everything,” Ryan said of his 2012 running mate. “What we do agree on is that we don’t want another Democrat in the White House. I can tell you that.”

Several of the Speaker’s House GOP colleagues shared that sentiment: Trump may not be perfect, but he’s far better than Clinton.

“We’ve got two options: Trump and Clinton. I don’t love everything about Trump, but my wife doesn’t love everything about me,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). “It’s just the nature of party politics — you don’t have to agree 100 percent with everyone else in the party to be part of that party group.”

I hope we unify around our nominee and get a Republican in the White House and not Secretary Clinton. He’s our nominee,” added Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus and a member of the special panel investigating the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, when Clinton was leading the State Department.

Trump would appoint conservative judges and protect the Second Amendment, Jordan said.

“Those are differences that are important to Americans, important to conservatives,” the congressman continued, “and I know that this individual, Secretary Clinton, wasn’t square with the American people when there was a national tragedy in Benghazi.”

Trump’s divisive statements and policies have put many Republicans on defense. The New York Times published a tongue-in-cheek piece on the five ways Hill Republicans are grappling with Trump, including those who walk fast to avoid tough questions.

The normally chatty Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American who formerly served as Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, initially waved off a reporter and hopped on an elevator after being asked about Trump. Pressed again, she would only say that she’s staying neutral.

“I’m not voting for Hillary or Trump. I’m not voting for either one,” she told The Hill as the elevator doors closed.

Longtime Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who has not endorsed Trump or Clinton, predicts a number of Republicans will vote for Clinton but not make it public.

For a lot of people, it’s the lesser of two evils, lesser of two worst choices,” he said. “You’ll see Republicans vote [for Clinton], but probably not publicly.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who earlier this year had suggested Ryan might be nominated in the event of a contested convention, said he’s now rooting for Trump. But he called the candidate’s attacks on GOP leaders “unusual.”

“I’m sorry, when you are running for president, you are the most important political figure other than the sitting president, and when you say things, it has repercussions for other elected officials. They have to be free to respond,” Cole told reporters. “They get asked, ‘What do you think about this.’ ... It’s not just the press. Your voters are asking you every day.”

Cole, who was raised in a military family, said Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants was “unconstitutional and unwise.”

“Probably the best forces on the ground against [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] are the Kurds. Well, guess what? They’re Muslim,” Cole said. “We are flying our airstrikes against ISIS out of guess where? Turkey. That’s a Muslim country. And they’ve been a wonderful ally of ours for half a century.”

Several senior GOP lawmakers said it’s too early to panic, even as Trump struggles with tanking poll numbers and GOP defections.

“The great thing about America is that everyone gets their say and everyone gets their opinion,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told The Hill as he ambled off the House floor. “What am I supposed worry about?"

Jonathan Swan contributed to this story.