Donald Trump on Tuesday pointedly declined to endorse either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Sen. John McCain in their Republican primaries.
Speaking with the Washington Post, Trump even used Ryan’s own words against him when the Wisconsin lawmaker had earlier declined to endorse Trump.
“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country,” Trump told the Post’s Philip Rucker. “We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet.”
A Ryan campaign spokesperson shot back: “Neither Speaker Ryan nor anyone on his team has ever asked for Donald Trump’s endorsement. And we are confident in a victory next week regardless.” Ryan is facing off against Paul Nehlen in next Tuesday’s GOP primary.
Trump also notably praised Nehlen in a tweet earlier this week:
Thanks to @pnehlen for your kind words, very much appreciated.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
Trump’s comments to the Post mirrored what Ryan said about Trump earlier this year, shortly after the Manhattan real estate developer became the presumptive Republican nominee. In May, Ryan sparked a firestorm of his own when he said of a Trump endorsement: “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.”
Both Ryan and McCain have since announced their support — with reservations — for Trump’s campaign. But neither Ryan nor McCain would defend Trump after he recently drew widespread condemnation for feuding with the Khan family.
Khizr Khan appeared with his wife at last week’s Democratic National Convention and used his speech there to passionately denounce Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from the U.S. Khan said Trump would have prevented his son, who heroically died in the Iraq War, from immigrating to the U.S. Trump responded by questioning why Khan’s wife was silent during the DNC speech.
Ryan then issued a statement praising the Khans’ son as a “hero” and reiterating his opposition to Trump’s proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration and tourist travel. And McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, went even further.
“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service,” McCain said in a statement released by his office Monday. “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers or candidates.”
In his interview with the Post, Trump also revived his criticism of McCain’s legislative performance on veterans’ issues. Last year, Trump infamously said McCain — a decorated veteran who spent years as a POW in the Vietnam War — was not a “hero.” He quickly reversed himself on the “hero” comment but repeatedly attacked McCain’s supposed lack of accomplishments for U.S. veterans.
“I’ve never been there with John McCain because I’ve always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets,” Trump said Tuesday. “He has not done a good job for the vets, and I’ve always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets. So I’ve always had a difficult time with John for that reason, because our vets are not being treated properly. They’re not being treated fairly.”
Trump also criticized New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, another GOP critic of his spat with the Khan family.
“I don’t know Kelly Ayotte,” he said. “I know she’s given me no support — zero support — and yet I’m leading her in the polls. I’m doing very well in New Hampshire. We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don’t need weak people. We have enough of them. We need fighters in this country. But Kelly Ayotte has given me zero support, and I’m doing great in New Hampshire.”
Earlier in the day Tuesday, President Obama said at a press conference that Trump’s remarks about the Khans were the latest evidence that Trump is unfit to be commander in chief. Obama called on Republican leaders to rescind their Trump endorsements.
“The question I think that they have to ask themselves is, ‘If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?’” Obama said.