As the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump is now the de facto leader of the GOP, even if he hasn’t officially been handed the nomination. And in his capacity as head of the party, he delivered a message to other GOP leaders on Wednesday: Sit down, and shut up.
Trump can’t fire elected Republican lawmakers as though they were contestants on his old reality television program, but he definitely gave them a taste of the disdain in which he holds people who disappoint him.
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In an angrier-than-usual speech, he suggested that the party’s leaders are too weak to help him in the election, and that it would be better if they would stop talking. “Don’t talk,” he directed them. “Just be quiet.”
Trump appeared in Atlanta, two days after delivering a speech and multiple interviews in the wake of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando by a man claiming to be allied with the terror group ISIS. In his remarks, which were broadly criticized, Trump reiterated his call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US, and effectively accused American Muslims -- as a group -- of willfully protecting what he said were “thousands of shooters” hiding in the US population. He called for surveillance of mosques and suggested that President Obama might be tacitly allowing terrorists to strike in the US.
The speech earned immediate pushback from Obama and Trump’s likely Democratic opponent in the general election, Hillary Clinton. Both described him and his policies as a danger to the country’s tradition of religious pluralism and its history as a beacon for immigrants.
And even senior Republicans distanced themselves from the billionaire former reality television star. House Speaker Paul Ryan directly criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, saying it is not “in our country’s interest.”
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell simply refused to address Trump’s speech at all, telling reporters on Tuesday, “I’m not going to be commenting on the presidential candidates today.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip in the Senate went his leader one better, telling Politico that he had decided to stop commenting on Trump until the general election is over -- in November.
On Wednesday, Trump let the crowd in Atlanta know just how much respect he has for the GOP’s congressional leadership.
“You know, the Republicans, honestly, folks, our leaders — our leaders have to get tougher,” he said. “This is too tough to do it alone. But you know what? I think I’m gonna be forced to. I think I’m going to be forced to.”
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He added, “A lot of people thought I should do that anyway...But I’ll just do it very nicely by myself. I think you’re gonna have a very good result. I think we’ll be very happy.”
In fact, he eventually seemed to warm to the idea of getting GOP leadership out of the picture entirely.
“Our leaders have to get a lot tougher, and be quiet. Just please be quiet,” Trump said. “Don’t talk. Please, be quiet. 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.”
It doesn’t seem like it will be much longer before Republican lawmakers decide, en masse, to take him up on that offer.