By Steve Holland and John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, April 1 – 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 is also struggling to contain the fallout from his Wednesday comment that women who have abortions should be punished if the procedure is outlawed, said afterward he had a “nice meeting” to talk about party unity with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
“Looking forward to bringing the party together,” Trump said on Twitter. “And it will happen!”
Priebus said the meeting was scheduled days ago and included a discussion about the process heading into the party’s July convention in Cleveland. Trump leads the Republican race, but is at risk of falling short of the 1,237 delegates needed to become the party’s nominee in the Nov. 8 election, raising the prospect of a contested convention.
“We did talk about unity and working together and making sure when we go to Cleveland, and come out of Cleveland, that we’re working in the same direction,” Priebus told the Fox News Channel.
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.
On Tuesday, Trump backed away from the 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 unraveled as Trump‘s remaining rivals, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, also indicated they were unlikely to observe the pledge if Trump was the nominee.
Priebus refused to say if the discarded loyalty pledge was discussed at the meeting with Trump, which lasted just under an hour.
The billionaire businessman was in Washington for a morning 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 Trump‘s abortion comment, even though he quickly reversed his stance.
Trump pulled back from his initial comments within an hour, first in a statement saying 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, calling the initial comments a “simple misspeak.” She saidTrump 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 campaign.
The abortion flap erupted as Trump campaigned in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday. The primary will be particularly important because all 42 delegates will be awarded to the winner of the popular vote, rather than distributed proportionate to the vote. Two opinion polls released in the last two days showed Cruz moving ahead of Trump by 10 percentage points in Wisconsin.
Trump‘s meetings with his new foreign policy advisers follow several controversial statements on national security issues, prompting critics to question his suitability to be commander in chief.
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.
Trump told the Fox News Channel that the nuclear issue was discussed at his foreign policy meeting “and everybody agrees with me. You don’t take it off the table.”
Many establishment Republicans have labored to block Trump from getting the nomination at the July convention, worried that he will lead the party to an overwhelming defeat in November.
Trump‘s Republican rivals said his abortion comments were just another example that raises questions about his suitability for the White House.
“It just shows that he’s really not prepared to be president of the United States,” Kasich told reporters at a New York news conference, adding that 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,” he said.