Donald Trump gave Republican Party leadership the cold shoulder on Tuesday, using House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) words against him to say he isn’t backing Ryan or Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) re-election campaigns in an unprecedented move for a Republican Party nominee.
Trump also pointed to Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who faces a difficult re-election race, as a weak and disloyal lawmaker in an interview with the Washington Post.
“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country,” Trump said. “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.”
Ryan previously withheld his endorsement of Trump, saying in a May interview, “I’m not there right now” when asked if he would throw his support behind the then-presumptive nominee.
After Ryan released a statement this week distancing himself from Trump’s ongoing attacks on the family of a deceased Muslim-American soldier, Ryan’s primary challenger, Paul Nehlen, defended the New York businessman. Trump rewarded Nehlen, who is facing off against Ryan’s massive war chest, with a shout-out on Twitter.
He told the Washington Post that Nehlen is a “big fan of what I’m saying” and is running a “very good campaign.”
Trump, who previously attacked McCain for being a Vietnam prison of war for five years, told the newspaper of the Arizona senator, “I’ve always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets.”
McCain strongly denounced Trump’s attacks on the Khan family on Monday, calling on the nominee “to set the example for what our country can and should represent.” He also chastised Trump for using the party’s nomination as an “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
Trump also went after Ayotte, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable senators, saying, “she’s given me no support – zero support – and yet I’m leading her in the polls.”
“You have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot. You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us, OK? You tell me,” he told the Post.
Ayotte has repeatedly said she would support the GOP nominee but has stopped short of formally endorsing Trump. About an hour after Trump’s interview with the Post was published, she vowed to continue to “stand up for our military families and what’s best for the people of New Hampshire”:
I call it like I see it and I’m always going to stand up for our military families and what’s best for the people of New Hampshire.
— Kelly Ayotte (@KellyAyotte) August 2, 2016
This post has been updated.