Former rivals Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham say they will not vote for Donald Trump in US presidential elections as discontent over Trump's nomination grows within the Republican party
Two of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's vanquished rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, said on Friday they would not vote for him in November in a startling rejection by party leaders.
"Donald Trump has not demonstrated that temperament or strength of character. He has not displayed a respect for the Constitution. And, he is not a consistent conservative. These are all reasons why I cannot support his candidacy," Bush wrote in a Facebook post, adding that he would not vote for likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton either.
Graham joined Bush among other Republican leaders refusing to support Trump and announced on Friday that he will also skip the Republican convention in July.
Trump said he was not surprised about Bush's stance and was dismissive of Graham.
"I will not say he's low-energy," Trump said about Bush, reprising a jibe he used frequently during the primary campaign. He mocked Graham's poor primary showing, saying, "Like the voters who rejected him, so will I!"
Bush and Graham were latest prominent Republican leaders openly rejecting Trump in an extraordinary show of intra-party discontent over his winning the party's presidential nomination.
Trump ignored the critics, saying they didn't really matter when compared to all the voters who turned out to vote for him in this year's primary elections.
Trump grudgingly agreed to meet next week with Republican House speaker Paul Ryan, who said he was not ready to embrace Trump's nomination in a statement a day earlier, rekindling intra-party discussions about the real estate mogul.
"The thing that matters most are the millions of people that have come out to vote for me and give me a landslide victory in almost every state," Trump said moments after Ryan, the nation's highest-ranking Republican officeholder, announced their planned meeting.
Ryan said his meeting with Trump would occur next Thursday and that Trump also would meet with other House GOP leaders. Discussions will center on "the kind of Republican principles and ideas that can win the support of the American people this November," Ryan said.
The unlikely back-and-forth came a day after Ryan injected new uncertainty into the turbulent presidential contest by refusing, for now, to endorse Trump. Aides said that Ryan hopes to exert a positive influence, rather than seeking to helm an anti-Trump movement, for the general election campaign after a nominating contest that has alienated women, minorities and other voter groups.
Yet Trump's reaction Friday made it unclear what impact Ryan could have.
"With millions of people coming into the party, obviously I'm saying the right thing," Trump said on Fox News Channel. "I mean, he talks about unity, but what is this?"
As the rift within the GOP deepened on Friday, some Republicans were not shy about expressing their displeasure with Ryan.
"Yesterday's statement emboldens others to be equally publicly difficult. And that runs the risk of creating a Goldwater kind of moment where the party really does split," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, referring to the 1964 Republican presidential nominee whose candidacy divided the GOP and was followed by a big Democratic victory.
Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania said "The voters of our party have spoken loud and clear, and it's their voice that matters."
Trump has criticized Ryan in the past and renewed his attacks on Friday by arguing that Ryan and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, "lost a race that should have been won" in 2012. Trump and Ryan also have disagreements on policy, from immigration to Social Security to trade.
In his latest surprising breach of orthodoxy on Friday Trump questioned whether the US government would make good on its commitment to fully honor Treasury notes, suggesting he might try to get a better deal.
It all comes at a moment when Trump needs to be reaching out to the women, minorities and others who will be crucial for him to triumph in November over Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. Trump made what he appeared to believe was an overture in that direction Thursday by tweeting a photo of himself eating a taco bowl in celebration of Cinco de Mayo and declaring his love for Hispanics.
The gesture landed with a thud, and many Latino leaders reacted negatively, although Trump insisted on Friday that "People loved it."
Ryan himself said in his initial comments on CNN that he hopes to be able to come around to supporting Trump. He's just not there yet.
"You have to unify all wings of the Republican Party in a conservative movement," he said. "And we've got a ways to go from here to there."