THE AMERICAS

Trump’s broadsides widen rift within the Republican Party

The presidential candidate refuses to endorse top conservative leaders Paul Ryan and John McCain for reelection, straining an already delicate relationship

John McCain remains a leading light in the Republican Party.
John McCain remains a leading light in the Republican Party.Ralph Freso / AP

The appearance of unity the Republican Party tried to present at its national convention in Cleveland two weeks ago when it officially nominated Donald Trump as its presidential candidate is crumbling as the days pass. Notable Republicans like New York Representative Richard Hanna and Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman have said they will vote for Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Trump has strained an already fragile relationship with two top conservative leaders —House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain— by refusing to endorse them for reelection in their respective states. Even Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence has distanced himself from Trump and supported Ryan. Just three months before Americans vote in November’s presidential election, this most surprising and untameable candidate is putting the Republican Party to the test.

A symptom of growing anxiety among conservatives —to the astonishment of many of them— is the fact that some political talk shows are recycling an old conspiracy theory that suggests that Trump is a Clinton ally who has infiltrated the Republican camp in order to destroy it from within and thus secure the White House for Democrats. That hoax started last summer after it was revealed that the reality TV star and businessman had spoken to former President Bill Clinton a few weeks before launching his campaign.

It’s all part of the process of unifying the party

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence

Trump meets the criteria for such a conspiracy theory to thrive. His raucous campaign has proven controversial within the Republican Party and beyond. He can easily combine sexist remarks and racists insults aimed at Mexicans with praises for Saddam Hussein. His language alone seemed like enough ammunition to discredit a presidential candidate in the United States. The “but” of the conspiracy, in order for it to be true, Trump had to achieve something difficult: defeat more than a dozen conservative rivals and set himself up as the Republican nominee. And he has done it. Now that conspiracy has met a new challenge: the latest polls are making Democrats lose sleep at night since they are not certain they will win in November.

Meanwhile, the Trump hurricane has ripped open the Republican Party. The New York mogul turned against GOP establishment on Tuesday. In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump refused to back Representative Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) and Senator John McCain (Arizona) for reelection. When asked about his support for House Speaker Ryan, he said: “I’m just not quite there yet,” in cold revenge. His words echo what Ryan said to CNN in May when he was still hesitating about endorsing Trump and called him a lesser evil than the Clintons: “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.” And McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, was the hardest on the novice politician after he offended the family of an American Muslim soldier who died in combat.

Republican National Committee President Reince Priebus is furious with Trump for his insolence, Reuters reports. “He feels like a fool,” after throwing his support behind the candidate in Cleveland, Reuters said citing Republican sources close to the situation.

Mike Pence, on the other hand, tried to maintain peace. He endorsed Ryan that same afternoon. “I spoke to Donald Trump this morning about my support for Paul Ryan, our longtime friendship. He strongly encouraged me to endorse Paul Ryan in next Tuesday's primary. I'm pleased to do it," Pence told Fox News. He also tried to repair the wreckage Trump left behind after he scorned the family of a fallen American soldier. “It’s all part of the process of unifying the party,” Pence said.

Meanwhile, Hewlett Packard (HP) CEO Meg Whitman, one of the most powerful female executives in the world and a respected member of the Republican Party, said on Wednesday night that she will vote for Hillary Clinton. “Trump's unsteady hand would endanger our prosperity and national security. His authoritarian character could threaten much more,” she wrote on her Facebook page. Whitman’s remarks came days after after New York Representative Richard Hanna publicly announced that he was breaking away from the party in this presidential election and backing the Democratic nominee.

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The fear is that, beyond such public pronouncements, many Republicans will either vote for Clinton or stay home on November 8. The party’s top brass may not shower praises on Trump in public but he did win the primaries, a clear indication of the divide between Republican leaders and their political base.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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