Senate Republicans ask Trump to soften his tone

Senate Republicans ask Trump to soften his tone
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans told Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE at Thursday’s private meeting that he needs to soften his tone ahead of the general election.

The presidential hopeful's combative style revs up his supporters but also turns off many voters, especially women, Republicans believe.

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Trump acknowledged their worries and explained that the thousands of people who attend his rallies expect him to be fired up and not to stick to the scripted lines of a conventional politician.

In raising the concerns, Senate GOP leaders took pains to do so very politely so as not to put their party’s presumptive nominee on the defensive, according to sources familiar with the hour-long meeting that took place Thursday at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ky.) later praised it as a “very good, constructive meeting.”

McConnell and his caucus have more than the presidential election at stake with Trump. They think their fragile Senate majority is also in the balance.

Some Republicans worry that Trump’s pugilistic style, while popular with a segment of the electorate, may turn off some swing voters.

Senators attending the meeting said they saw a different side of Trump on Thursday.

“He was personable and listened, which is something I think is very important,” said Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Cornyn introduce bill to fund school nutrition programs Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (R-Texas). 

Aside from the sober talk on the tone of the campaign, one lawmaker described the meeting as “convivial.”

Trump tweeted that he had a “great meeting with @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell and Republican leaders in D.C.” and posted a picture of himself listening to McConnell intently at the NRSC.

Cornyn also tweeted a picture of himself standing next to Trump, who is flashing a big grin and a thumbs-up sign. 

The second-ranking Senate Republican said the issue of tone was raised during the meeting, and that Trump signaled he wanted to help GOP senators in their own elections.

“He recognized the impact of the presidential candidate on down-ballot races, and said he looked forward to being helpful where he could,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn also suggested that Trump was open to the fact that some Republicans might have to run away from him to win their states.

Republicans are defending 24 seats in 2016, many of them in states won by President Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

“He also understands that in some places people may choose to run independently of him,” Cornyn said.

After the meeting, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' MORE (R), who is running against a highly touted Democratic candidate this fall, released a statement that said he had “reminded” Trump of the need to adapt his tone.

“Sen. Blunt joined the Senate Republican leadership for today’s meeting with Donald Trump and reminded him that tone and language matter in our efforts to defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Democratic demolition derby Juan Williams: Don't count Biden out Candidates in Obama's orbit fail to capitalize on personal ties MORE in November,” Blunt’s office said in a statement.

“Sen. Blunt urged Donald Trump to unite Americans in this effort in a way that reminds all of us of our common goals,” the statement added. 

Overall, however, the public displays by Trump and GOP senators were about sending the signal that they are all on the same page.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban MORE (R-S.C.), perhaps the toughest GOP critic of Trump in the Senate, even had a phone discussion with the real estate mogul about foreign policy. Graham did not endorse Trump or even move toward saying he would vote for him, but he did say Trump had asked good questions on the call.

Polls show a large majority of Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, and Republicans worry that could cost their nominee in the fall.

On this topic, Cornyn said he offered to help.

“I was fortunate enough to win the Hispanic vote in 2014. I said I would be glad to show with you my experience and observations,” he said.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTimeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske MORE (R-Utah), the chamber’s president pro tempore — the most senior member of the majority party — told reporters after meeting with Trump, “I totally endorse him.”

The lawmakers also discussed ObamaCare, regulatory reform and religious freedom at the meeting, top topics of Republicans running for reelection.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber MORE (Wyo.), the only doctor in the GOP leadership, raised the impact of ObamaCare on insurance premiums.

Insurance companies have begun to submit requests to the Obama administration to hike premiums, a potentially explosive issue in the upcoming election.

Trump responded without missing a beat that he was closely following the issue and predicted the administration would attempt to postpone those increases until after the election.   

Trump met with 11 Senate Republicans, including every member of the elected leadership: McConnell, Cornyn, Barrasso, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (S.D.), the Senate Republican Conference chairman, Blunt, the conference vice chairman, and Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Senators press NCAA on compensation for college athletes Overnight Defense: Inside Trump's 4B Pentagon budget | Highlights include .4B for Space Force, preview of Air Force One paint job | Senate eyes Wednesday debate on Iran war powers | 109 US troops diagnosed with brain injuries from attack MORE (Miss.), the NRSC chairman.

Other attendees included Hatch, Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama Senate contender hits Sessions in new ad: 'Hillary still ain't in jail' Barr back on the hot seat McCabe: 'I don't think I will ever be free of this president and his maniacal rage' MORE (R-Ala.), the first senator to have endorsed Trump, and Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to combat cyberattacks on state and local governments MORE (R-Ohio), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerLoeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid Bolton upends Trump impeachment trial  The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers MORE (R-Neb.) and Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoTrump hammers Manchin over impeachment vote Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle Democrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race MORE (R-W.Va.), who serve as counsels to McConnell.