GOP Chief: This Isn’t Donald Trump’s Party
Policy + Politics

GOP Chief: This Isn’t Donald Trump’s Party

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Republican Party is not “Donald Trump’s party” and its policies and platform will continue to be “much the same” as they are right now, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday morning.

Priebus sat down with Politico’s Mike Allen just three days after the New York billionaire’s remaining rivals dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination, leaving him a clear field to secure the party’s presidential nomination.

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Is the GOP now Donald Trump’s party? Allen asked.

“No. It’s the party’s party,” Priebus said. “The party is, was, and will remain the Republican Party of the open door, freedom of opportunity and equality, and I believe our platform will remain much the same as it is right now.”

Priebus’s declaration that the GOP will, in term of its policies and positions, remain the same would appear to fly in the face of much of what Trump has said on the campaign trail. Among other things, his proposals to demand that U.S. creditors accept less than full payment for the country’s debts, to ban Muslims from entering the country and to scrap free trade deals simply do not square with Republican orthodoxy on these issues.

Allen pressed Priebus on the Muslim ban, and the RNC chair indicated that he believes Trump can be persuaded to change his mind on some of his more controversial stances.

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On the Muslim ban, he said, “I put a statement out already that it is not something I believe in or our party believes in. Our party is the party of the open door … So there are some things I don’t agree with.”

Does he hope to persuade Trump that the GOP is the party of the open door?

“Yeah, and I think he believes that,” Priebus said. “I am going to work very hard at making sure that some of these issues are discussed, talked about, understood, and I’m confident given my experience so far with him that he is going to have an open mind to some of these issues.”

He said that in person, Trump is “far more gracious and personable than I think you see in rallies” and that he will be able to shift his tone into “general election mode” soon.

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He also conceded that Trump will have to dramatically change the way he talks about minority groups and other segments of the population that his harsh language has alienated. After the party’s loss in 2012, the RNC commissioned a much-discussed “autopsy” of the race that determined, among other things, that minority groups -- particularly Hispanics -- simply feel that the GOP actively dislikes them.

“You also need the tone at the top to be the kind of tone where, obviously, people think you like them,” he said. “If people don’t think you like them, then they are not going to vote for you.”

Asked about Trump’s language toward minorities -- for instance, he has called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers -- he said, “I think there is work to do. I think there is work on tone to do. I’ve been clear about that. I’ve said that recently.”

Has he said it to Trump directly?

 “I have. And he understands it. I think he gets it. I think you’re going to see it. I think you are going to see the change in tone.”

Then Allen brought up a tweet that Trump sent out on Thursday. It showed him about to eat a taco salad out of a burrito bowl.

“Happy #CincoDeMayo!,” it said. “The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

Priebus looked down for moment and nodded his head slightly. “He’s trying,” he said to immediate laughter from the crowd. “Honestly, he’s trying. And I’ll tell you what. I honestly think he understands that building and unifying and growing the party is the only way we’re going to win.”

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Priebus is acutely aware of his candidate’s shortcomings, but he also took pains to point out that Trump’s willingness to say anything can also be seen as an advantage.

“Sometimes in our party we get criticized because we don’t hit hard enough ... I don’t think that Donald Trump is going to have a hard time bringing out some of the things that are going to be very not good for Hillary Clinton.”

He said, “If there is one person that knows how to bring all of that out in a way that people can understand, it’s Donald Trump. And he’s going to do it, too. He’s going to bring it out and unfortunately for Hillary Clinton it’s not going to be very comfortable because she has a lot to answer for.”

Priebus also addressed the dustup caused Thursday by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement that he is not yet ready to endorse Trump as the party’s nominee.

Trump called him immediately after Ryan made his statement on CNN, Priebus said, asking “What do I need to do?”

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Priebus said his response was, “Just relax and be gracious and I’ll talk to Paul and we’ll try to work on this.”

He said that he believes part of the problem is that few people expected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to drop out of the race this week, leaving them little time to prepare for Trump being the presumptive nominee.

Of Ryan, he said, “I think he thought he had 30 more days.”

“I think Paul is being honest,” he added. “I think he is going to get there. He wants to get there.”

The two men will meet in Washington next week, he said, but cautioned, “It’s going to take some time ... for people to work through differences.”