In a closed-door meeting Thursday designed to foster party unity, Donald Trump laid into three Senate Republicans for not supporting him, The Washington Post reports.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake took the brunt of Trump’s barbs, after voicing his concerns that Trump’s immigration policies and language would alienate Latino voters.
“You’ve been very critical of me,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said when Flake introduced himself.
“Yes, I’m the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that,” Flake responded, referring to last year when Trump questioned whether Flake’s colleague, Sen. John McCain, was a war hero.
Trump faulted the decorated former Navy flier for being shot down and captured during the Vietnam War.
“I’m not part of the Never Trump movement,” Flake replied.
Trump said he hadn’t attacked Flake hard, yet, suggesting he would. Flake asked Trump to stop attacking Mexicans. The billionaire New Yorker replied by predicting Flake would lose his reelection bid. Flake isn’t on the ballot this year.
Flake afterward told reporters that the meeting didn’t change his position on Trump.
“I just can’t support him given the things that he’s said.”
Trump also targeted Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who rescinded his Trump endorsement last month, citing the candidate’s racially tinged criticisms of a Mexican-American judge presiding over a lawsuit against the defunct Trump University. Kirk had skipped the meeting.
Deriding Kirk as a loser, Trump predicted he’d win Illinois, which hasn’t voted for a GOP nominee since 1988. Kirk later said he didn’t think Trump could win his state.
“We haven’t seen a personality like his too much in the Midwest,” Kirk told The Associated Press. “Eastern, privileged, wealthy bully,” Kirk said. “Our bullies are made of better stuff in Illinois.”
Trump’s third target, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, is possibly the biggest Senate advocate for a third-party candidate. According to The New York Times, Trump earlier branded Sasse as looking “more like a gym rat than a U.S. Senator.” During the meeting, Trump questioned whether Sasse wanted Hillary Clinton to win, the Post reported.
“Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place and, with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire. Nothing has changed,” James Wegmann, Sasse’s spokesman, told reporters afterwards.
“It seemed blunt but it wasn’t tense . . . Trump’s comment at the end didn’t come across as a threat,” Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford told Politico. “It was, ‘I’m gaining popularity in your state and get on board because if you’re fighting against me, the people in your state support me.'”
“Today’s meeting was positive and productive and these characterizations, attributed to unnamed sources, are wholly inaccurate,” Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman and senior strategist, said in a statement to the Post. “The conversation was very positive and substantive.”