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Donald Trump endorses Paul Ryan and John McCain in bid to unite GOP

Donald Trump endorses Paul Ryan and John McCain in bid to unite GOP
Donald Trump speaks Friday at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa. (Steve Pope / Getty Images)

Reeling from missteps that have alarmed many fellow Republicans, Donald Trump endorsed House Speaker Paul D. Ryan for reelection on Friday in a grudging move to unite the badly fractured party.

Trump's refusal to back Ryan in a Washington Post interview on Tuesday had stunned Republicans already unnerved by his unorthodox candidacy for president. It was a remarkable breach of protocol for the party's White House nominee to withhold support from its most powerful member of Congress.

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Trump's reversal came amid a decline in his poll ratings both nationally and in crucial battleground states, with his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton establishing a solid lead in the aftermath of the party conventions.

Ryan and many other Trump supporters have criticized the New York businessman for attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain killed in the Iraq war, after the father denounced Trump at the Democratic convention.

At a rally Friday evening in Green Bay, Wis., Trump appeared uneasy as he read prepared remarks endorsing Ryan, but he grinned and flashed two thumbs up as the crowd cheered.

"He's a good man, and he's a good guy," Trump said. "And we may disagree on a couple of things, but mostly we agree."

Ryan's office released a statement, saying, "He appreciates the gesture and is going to continue to focus on earning the endorsement of the voters in Southern Wisconsin."

Trump also tried to mend relations with two Republican senators whom he'd criticized after they faulted him for attacking the Khans: John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

"And while I'm at it," he said after endorsing Ryan, "I hold in the highest esteem Sen. John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office, and I fully support and endorse his reelection. Very important."

Last summer in Iowa, Trump touched off controversy by questioning whether McCain was a war hero. McCain, a former Navy pilot, was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "He's not a war hero," Trump said then. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

In the Post interview, Trump said McCain had done a bad job for veterans and faulted Ayotte, one of the party's most vulnerable incumbents, for giving him "zero support."

But in Green Bay, he called Ayotte "a rising star" who does a good job for New Hampshire. "I also fully support and endorse Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a state I truly love, primarily because that was my first victory," he said.

Neither Ryan nor Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, showed up for Trump's Green Bay event. Wisconsin's Republican state Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, released a scathing open letter saying he was embarrassed that Trump was leading the party ticket in November.

"As Donald Trump has said stupid things and been rude to so many people over the past year, I usually chalked it up to inexperience and the spotlight of an incredibly hostile press," Vos wrote. "But since the convention, his lack of judgement has got to concern even the most ardent Trump supporters."

Trump lost the Wisconsin primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and his enduring friction with GOP leaders there does not bode well for him in what is already one of the toughest presidential battleground states for any Republican.

In a radio interview Friday morning, Ryan did not rule out withdrawing his endorsement of Trump.

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"With any endorsement of anybody, there's never a blank check," Ryan told conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes in Milwaukee.

Ryan has criticized Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and said it was racist for him to suggest that a judge's Mexican ancestry made it impossible for him to be impartial in a civil fraud suit against Trump. Ryan is heavily favored to win the Republican primary in his southern Wisconsin congressional district on Tuesday.

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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