Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump criticized Mitt Romney's effort during the home stretch of the 2012 presidential campaign, but he assured Republican lawmakers that he'd outwork their previous standard-bearer.
"There was a context of Romney being AWOL and Obama being all over the grid the last four weeks where we lost and he said, I'm going to be on steroids, I'm going to be 500 percent of that,'" one House Republican told the Washington Examiner after a Thursday morning confab between Trump and the GOP conference.
It was an odd appeal for Trump to make, given that House Speaker Paul Ryan — Romney's vice presidential running mate — was sitting near the front of the room when he said it. Trump's congressional allies billed the meeting as an opportunity for Republicans to assess Trump without the filter of a hostile media. In person, Trump assured lawmakers that he would work with them to advance their priorities as president. But he also made clear that he doesn't believe he needs to change his behavior to win the White House.
"I don't think he's scared," Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told the Examiner. "I don't think he thinks he's in any hurry."
Trump made a number of comments designed to alleviate GOP concerns. He promised, once again, to appoint Supreme Court justices approved by the conservative legal community. He also promised to respect the constitutional powers of Congress — a sore point for many lawmakers given their combative relationship with President Obama. "All the key issues, I think we're united," Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said after the meeting. "He's very much interested in our blueprint that Republicans put out."
Those pledges won a lot of applause. "He nailed it in there," Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told the Examiner. "The bigger subtext was just, look, you're winning over everyone in the room right here, you're saying all the right things, this is a great meeting, and it was just like — can we count on you to stay on that narrative and keep nailing it like that."
Most Republicans didn't challenge him directly, although there were "sidelong comments" about the need for humility, according to multiple attendees. (Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., opened the meeting with a "beautiful prayer" about humility, in fact). But when they did, Trump tended to resist the idea of a course correction.
Rep. Crescent Hardy, R-Nev., for instance, asked about improving his outreach to Hispanics, but Trump rejected the premise of the question. "He said Hispanics love him," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., told reporters after the meeting.
Trump claimed that he is leading Hillary Clinton in Nevada, just as he won the state's GOP presidential caucus. He also said that he is leading in the perennial swing state of Ohio and the typically blue state of Michigan, and he promised his general election campaign — and television ad campaign — would "get into gear" during and after the GOP convention, according to Gibbs.
"I know in Ohio — I'm in the Cleveland media market — Hillary's got all kinds of ads going and stuff, Trump doesn't have any up yet," Gibbs said. "So If he's gaining her in Ohio without [TV] ..."