As leaders in the Republican Party scramble — warily — to build a united front ahead of November’s presidential election, Donald Trump continues to send mixed signals to his supporters about just how united the GOP needs to be.
“We need unity in the Republican Party, and I have to be honest — I think I win without the unity — but we need unity in the Republican Party,” Trump said during a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina this week.
With the majority of GOP voters wanting someone other than Trump as the presidential nominee, his campaign is facing an uphill battle against the party’s establishment players. While the billionaire's bombastic personality has alienated members of his own party, it has also riled up the Republican base, which is why he hasn’t been so concerned with appeasing those holding GOP leadership positions.
Unlike the Democratic party's presumptive presidential nominee, Trump’s relationship with his party elite is much more fraught, and his messaging on bringing members of his party together has never been clear. Remember those loyalty pledges, taken and revoked?
It’s clear where Trump’s real loyalty lies — and that he expects the GOP to fall in line.
“We have great people, but we need real unity, and the leaders have to get supportive, and if they don’t get supportive — we’re going to win anyway. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “In fact, probably I’ll do better without the kind of support that we’re talking about because that’s why I’m here in the first place. That’s why I’m here in the first place.”
Republicans in leadership positions have been attempting to unify the party without the help of its presumptive presidential nominee. Despite having reservations about Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan has urged unity amid this year’s untraditional campaign season. Other congressional Republicans have echoed the speaker’s remarks on the matter.
But maybe it’s not Donald Trump who ultimately pulls the party together. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in May suggested that Hillary Clinton alone will "be enough to unify Republicans across the country." With the former secretary of state’s scandals angering both GOPers and voters in general, McConnell’s brief remarks may be the real key to unifying the Republican Party.
FBI Director James Comey's announcement yesterday that he won’t be recommending charges be brought related to Clinton’s use of a private email server — that her conduct was “extremely careless” but not criminal — is already fueling the GOP fire. And as Florida Senator Marco Rubio more recently pointed out, the FBI's decision may not be the end of Clinton's scandals.
So the real question in any discussion of Republican unity, at least as we head to November, is whether Clinton can succeed in bringing the party together and energizing it in a way that Trump never will.