GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has “gotten the messages” from party leadership and has begun to take steps to unify the Republican Party, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday.
Mr. Gingrich’s comments come after a whirlwind week for Mr. Trump in which he seemingly careened from one self-inflicted crisis to the other, including his initial refusals to endorse current House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Late last week, Mr. Trump changed his tune and formally backed the three Republican lawmakers, leading Mr. Gingrich to conclude the party’s candidate is beginning to understand his own electoral chances depend on having a united GOP.
“I think he’s gotten the message,” Mr. Gingrich, a Trump supporter, said on “Fox News Sunday,” though he added that “he should have done [those things] in the first place.”
But while the endorsement sends a clear message that the New York billionaire is ready to work with the Republican Party establishment that had opposed his candidacy from the start, it also infuriated grass-roots conservatives who wanted Mr. Trump to help overthrow establishment figures such as Mr. Ryan, whom some of them deride as a RINO — Republican In Name Only.
Mr. Trump had withheld his endorsement in Mr. Ryan’s primary race against an anti-establishment rival Paul Nehlen, who is a strong Trump supporter. Mr. Trump in recent days had said that he “wasn’t there yet” in backing Mr. Ryan, echoing the speaker’s earlier comments when he resisted endorsing Mr. Trump.
At the rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Mr. Trump said he was following Ronald Reagan’s tenet that an 80 percent ally was not a 20 percent enemy.
“We may disagree on a couple of things, but mostly we agree. And we’re going to get it done, and we’re going to do a lot of wonderful [things],” Mr. Trump said.
The trio of endorsements — especially the one for Mr. Ryan — shocked some of Mr. Trump’s diehard supporters.
“He has broken our heart doing this tonight,” said Trump supporter Sue Payne, a conservative activist working to defeat Mr. Ryan.
“We finally thought we had a voice to stand up against the RINO establishment. He sold us out,” she said. “What happened tonight is the establishment got their claws in him and they are pulling the strings. What do we believe now?”
Mr. Ryan’s challenger said himself that he understood Mr. Trump’s decision to back the party leadership.
“Given his stature as our party’s official nominee, Mr. Trump’s decision to support the Republican Speaker is appropriate and is a display of true leadership,” Mr. Nehlen said in a statement.
“Mr. Trump’s early refusal to endorse Ryan sent a clear signal to Wisconsin voters that Ryan is not his preferred candidate in this race. Speaker Ryan’s globalist agenda stands in clear opposition to the will of the Republican electorate, who want safe communities, immigration control, smart trade deals, and leaders who put the needs of the American people first,” he said.
Mr. Nehlen faced an uphill in taking on the powerful House speaker, trailing by 80 percent to 14 percent, according to a Remington Research Group poll released Friday.
Mr. Gingrich went on to explain why he believes Mr. Trump has made so many unforced political errors.
“It’s very tricky if you’ve never run for public office to jump from being a businessman to being one of the two leaders fighting for the presidency,” he said.