By Doina Chiacu & Steve Holland
WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s White House campaign was in turmoil on Wednesday, with a senior Republican Party official furious over his criticism of a dead soldier’s family and his refusal to back the re-election campaign of House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.
Trump shrugged off the growing party backlash over his insistent public dispute with the parents of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who was killed in the Iraq war in 2004.
“There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before. I want to thank everyone for your tremendous support. Beat Crooked H!” the Republican nominee wrote on Twitter early on Wednesday, referring to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Facing uproar over his dispute with the family, the New York businessman hit back on Tuesday at critics in the Republican leadership. In an interview with The Washington Post, he denied both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain support in their re-election bids.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was furious over Trump’s decision not to endorse Ryan, who is the most senior elected Republican, and over the candidate’s feud with the Khan family, two Republican sources said.
“He feels like a fool,” a Republican source familiar with the situation said of Priebus.
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was struggling to get the candidate back on message, the source said.
longtime ally of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager: “Manafort not challenging Trump anymore. Mailing it in. Staff suicidal.”
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) August 3, 2016
The campaign has been wracked by turmoil in recent days. On Monday, Trump fired a senior adviser, Ed Brookover, who had been hired to serve as a liaison between the campaign and the Republican National Committee.
The Trump campaign had no immediate comment.
Trump loyalist and former campaign official Corey Lewandowski dismissed reports of dissent and disarray in Trump’s camp, telling CNN on Tuesday evening that campaign staffers “would climb over barbed wire for Donald Trump, chew on glass to make sure that they get him elected” on Nov. 8.
Trump has had a running dispute with the parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan since they took the stage at last week’s Democratic National Convention. Khizr and Ghazala Khan cited the sacrifice of their son, who was killed by a car bomb, and criticized Trump’s proposal to combat terrorism by temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.
Many Republican leaders, including Ryan and McCain, have criticized Trump’s subsequent attacks on the parents. Several media outlets reported on Wednesday that Trump had rejected advice from his staff to drop the dispute.
A Republican congressional aide said there was deep frustration on Capitol Hill that Trump keeps engaging in “petty spats.” The aide said congressional offices that support Trump got two sets of talking points on Monday from the campaign about the Khan situation but have not heard anything from the campaign about Trump’s Ryan comments.
The dispute over Trump’s treatment of the Khans, coming just two weeks after he was formally anointed the White House nominee at the Republicans’ convention, was the latest rift in a party already frayed by internal dissent over the candidate.
Late on Tuesday, Meg Whitman, a prominent Republican fundraiser and chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise endorsed Clinton’s White House bid, calling Trump an “authoritarian character” and a threat to democracy.
In an interview with The New York Times, Whitman said it was time “to put country first before party.”
Tide of criticism
Also on Tuesday, Representative Richard Hanna of New York became the first Republican in Congress to endorse Clinton, although several other Republicans in Congress have said they will not support Trump. Even Trump’s longtime ally, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said it was inappropriate to criticize the Khan family.
In better news for Trump, his campaign and the Republican National Committee jointly raised $80 million for his White House bid in July, the campaign said on Wednesday. That was less than the $90 million Clinton raised along with the national Democratic Party the same month, but it was a substantial bump from his fund-raising in past months.
Trump was late to kick off traditional campaign fund-raising efforts, preferring to largely use his own funds during the Republican primary. He has contributed more than $56 million to his presidential run so far, the campaign said. In June, after hiring a national finance chairman and launching a collaboration with the RNC, Trump brought in $51 million.
A former reality TV star who has never held public office, Trump swept aside 16 rivals to win the party primary contests, winning support particularly from white blue-collar workers who feel neglected by the political establishment.
His plans have included the ban on Muslims and building a wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants. He has also proposed renegotiating trade treaties, opening up to Russia, revamping NATO and has suggested Japan and South Korea should get nuclear weapons.
Trump’s incendiary and often off-the-cuff rhetoric on Muslims, women and Mexican immigrants has drawn widespread criticism, including from some Republicans.
On Tuesday, Democratic President Barack Obama unleashed his strongest attack yet on Trump, calling him unfit for the presidency and asking Republican leaders why they continued to endorse him given their repeated criticisms of his actions.
Opinion polls have shown Clinton benefiting from a boost after her party’s convention last week. The RealClearPolitics average of recent national polls put her 4.5 percentage points ahead of Trump, at 46.5 percent to 42 percent.