WASHINGTON Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump made a surprise closed-door visit to the Republican National Committee on Thursday after a tumultuous two days on the campaign trail that included a reversal of his pledge to support the party's nominee.
Trump, who also has sought to contain the fallout from his Wednesday comments supporting punishment for women who have an abortion, said on Twitter afterward he had a "nice meeting" with RNC Chairman Reince Preibus but divulged no details.
"Looking forward to bringing the party together," he said. "And it will happen!"
An RNC spokeswoman described the meeting as "a productive conversation about the state of the race" and said it was part of Preibus's regular communications with the party's presidential candidates.
Trump's relationship with the RNC has been contentious at times, and he recently complained the party was not treating him fairly as it prepared for a possible contested convention in July in Cleveland.
On Tuesday, Trump backed away from a loyalty pledge he signed in September promising to support the party's eventual nominee and not to run an independent campaign for the White House.
The RNC pledge has unravelled as Trump's remaining rivals, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, also indicated they were unlikely to observe it if Trump was the nominee.
Barry Bennett, an adviser to the Trump campaign, said Thursday's visit was about Trump helping the RNC raise money.
"The meeting is to help the RNC," he said on MSNBC.
The billionaire businessman was in Washington for an announced gathering of his newly established foreign policy team. A source who attended said the group discussed threats from Islamic State militants, nuclear proliferation, homeland security assessments and European security levels.
Trump's campaign also announced it was setting up a Washington office to run its convention and delegate operations and work with the RNC and Congress.
The campaign has been busy trying to dig out from under an avalanche of criticism over his comment that women should face punishment for getting an abortion if the procedure was outlawed, although he quickly reversed his stance.
Trump, leading in the race to win the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, pulled back from his initial comments within an hour, first issuing a statement that U.S. states should handle abortion issues and later saying doctors who perform abortions are the ones who should be held responsible.
"You have a presidential candidate that clarified the record not once but twice," Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told CNN, describing the initial comments as a "simple misspeak." She said Trump was "pro-life with exceptions" and said his statements after the comments in an MSNBC interview were an accurate depiction of his views.
"We shouldn't make this a 24-hour headline when we have things like terrorism going on in the world."
Trump's latest controversy threatened to further erode his standing with women voters, many of whom have been offended by his use of vulgarities and insulting language to describe women during the presidential race.
The abortion flap erupted as Trump campaigned in Wisconsin ahead of the state's critical primary on Tuesday. An opinion poll released on Wednesday showed Cruz gaining ground and moving ahead of Trump by 10 percentage points in Wisconsin.
Trump's meetings with his new foreign policy advisers follows several controversial statements on national security issues, prompting critics to question his suitability to be commander in chief.
In recent interviews, Trump has declared NATO obsolete, said Saudi Arabia is too dependent on the United States and said Japan and South Korea may need to develop their own nuclear programs because the U.S. security umbrella is too costly to maintain.
In the same MSNBC town hall where he made the abortion comments, Trump refused to rule out the potential use of nuclear weapons in Europe or the Middle East to combat Islamic State militants. "I would never take any of my cards off the table," he said.
Many establishment Republicans have labored to block Trump from getting the nomination at the July convention, worried that he will lead the party to a broad and overwhelming defeat in November.
Trump's Republican rivals said his abortion comments were just the latest in a series of controversies that raise questions about his suitability for the White House.
"It just shows that he's really not prepared to be president of the United States," Ohio Governor John Kasich told reporters at a New York news conference arranged so that he could address the controversy.
Kasich said the president should not be constantly rowing back on a series of "wild-eyed suggestions."
"I have to tell you that as commander in chief and leader of the free world, you don't get do-overs. You need to be able to get it right the first time," Kasich said.
Trump, who has called for construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to control immigration, has won the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council, the union for Border Patrol agents, for his "bold and necessary" statements on immigration.
The council, which says it represents 16,500 members, backed Trump on Wednesday because of his pledge to actively involve them in border security policy-making, union members said.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Megan Cassella, Mark Hosenball, Julia Harte; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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Published Date: Apr 01, 2016 04:00 am | Updated Date: Apr 01, 2016 04:00 am