Top advisers to Donald Trump pledged to Republican Party leaders on Thursday that the New York billionaire would adopt a more presidential demeanor after weeks of bashing the party, and urged them to unify behind the political outsider.
Trump’s representatives, including newly recruited senior advisers Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley, met with leaders of the Republican National Committee behind closed doors at a conference room at an oceanside resort hotel where the party is holding a three-day meeting.
Over shrimp, crab legs and an open bar, the advisers expressed confidence that Trump would win the Republican presidential nomination without the party having to resort to a contested convention in Cleveland in July, according to three attendees.
Trump, 69, needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination outright for the Nov. 8 election. Rivals Ted Cruz, 45, and John Kasich, 63, are trying to stop him from getting a majority of delegates, so they can force a contested convention in which one of them could emerge as the nominee.
Party leaders told reporters after the session that Trump’s envoys said Trump, as the Republican nominee, would be able to expand the electoral map to include several states Republicans have not won in a general election in a generation.
One attendee, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore, said the Trump team told the group it expected Trump to have a “more presidential demeanor” over the next few weeks.In recent weeks, Trump has railed against the party for developing what he said was a “rigged” system in which Cruz was able to amass delegates in Colorado without Republicans actually voting.
Moore said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether Trump would change. “The proof is in the pudding,” he said.
Manafort told reporters after the meeting that “we talked about how we’re going to expand the map.”
As for how to improve Trump’s negative image held by some voters, Manafort said: “We just have to present him in a way that shows all sides of Donald Trump.”
‘STOP FIGHTING AMONG OURSELVES’
Former presidential candidate Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has endorsed Trump, also addressed the group. Talking to reporters as he walked into the meeting, Carson said his message was that Republicans should “stop fighting among ourselves” and unite behind Trump.
“I don’t think anyone can win if the Republican Party and the conservatives don’t consolidate,” he said.
Trump, who has alarmed some establishment Republicans with his comments on immigration, Muslims and trade, has begun to moderate his message in recent days.
Trump’s campaign has hired staff versed in the ways of Washington and has begun holding regular meetings on Capitol Hill with current and potential supporters.
Trump clashed again on Thursday with Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, this time over a North Carolina law passed last month requiring transgender people to use government and school bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates.
During an appearance at an NBC “Today” show town hall, Trump sided with critics of the law, passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, saying it was unnecessary and that North Carolina was “paying a big price” because of negative business reaction.
His comments drew immediate criticism from Cruz, a staunch social and fiscal conservative who supports the law and said Trump had caved to political correctness as he seeks to broaden his appeal.
Cruz, along with Kasich, 63, the Ohio governor, addressed leaders on Wednesday at the RNC meeting, which is focused on the party’s July convention.
Cruz said he had the ability to unite the party behind him after a bitter nomination battle. Kasich cited opinion polls showing he was the only Republican candidate who could defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.