Donald Trump reversed course Friday and endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan for re-election in an effort to steer his White House campaign back into favor with his party’s establishment after relentless criticism from his own Republican Party.
Facing sinking poll numbers and desperate to reset a campaign that has perhaps reached its lowest point of the year, Trump struck a rare conciliatory tone and made a bald plea for unity.
He also pledged to work with the very party leaders he had earlier dismissed as Washington’s ineffective establishment figures.
“We need unity. We have to win this election,” Trump told a rally in Ryan’s state of Wisconsin, as he stressed a “big tent” Republican Party is the only way to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s election.
“In our shared mission to make America great again, I support and endorse our Speaker of the House Paul Ryan,” he said, to cheers from the Green Bay crowd.
He also announced support for senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, two lawmakers facing tough re-election fights.
Trump has suffered a brutal campaign week that included his refusal to back down in a confrontation with the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq.
Ryan, McCain and Ayotte had all assailed Trump for his disparaging remarks.
It got worse Friday with criticism from Michael Morell, a 33-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who served presidents of both parties and helmed the agency in 2011, but announced his support for Clinton.
Trump “may well pose a threat to our national security,” he wrote in a New York Times column.
Morell said that as Russian President Vladimir Putin “played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.”
Trump has praised Putin as a great leader, and taken policy positions “consistent with Russian, not American, interests,” including endorsing Russian espionage against US figures like Clinton, Morell said.
“In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” he added.
Trump continued with his full-throttle attack on Clinton.
“If Hillary Clinton becomes president,” he said at a rally in Iowa, “you will have really, in my opinion, the destruction of this country from within.”
Trump called his Democratic opponent “a dangerous liar,” ”an unbalanced person,” ”pretty close to unhinged,” ”totally unfit to lead” and lacking “the judgment, temperament and moral character to lead the country.”
“In one way, she’s a monster,” he said in Wisconsin. “In another way, she’s a weak person. She’s actually not strong enough to be president.”
The charges came soon after Clinton addressed her own political vulnerabilities while facing a group of minority journalists in Washington. The former secretary of state sought to “clarify and explain” a recent statement on “Fox News Sunday” that FBI Director James Comey said her answers to the bureau about her use of a private email server were “truthful.”
“I may have short-circuited and for that I will try to clarify,” Clinton said, though still insisting she “never sent or received anything that was marked classified.”
She also acknowledged that many people don’t trust her.
“It doesn’t make me feel good when people say those things, and I recognize that I have work to do,” Clinton said. She added, “I’m going to work my heart out in this campaign and as president to produce results for people.”
Trump plans to release his economic policy framework in a speech in Detroit on Monday, an event that will offer him a chance to avoid theatrics and detail how he would handle economic issues if elected.
Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore told Reuters that the candidate’s plan would focus on four areas: tax, deregulation, energy policy and trade. “It’s going to be an all-encompassing look at how we reform the economy,” Moore said.