Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria(reuters_tickers)
By Steve Holland and Amanda Becker
HOLLYWOOD, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top advisers to Donald Trump assured Republican Party leaders on Thursday that the New York billionaire would adopt a more presidential demeanor soon, to temper the image projected during his campaign so far.
Trump's representatives, including newly recruited senior advisers Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley, met privately with leaders of the Republican National Committee at an oceanside resort hotel where the party is holding a three-day meeting.
“The part that he’s been playing is now evolving into the part that you’ve been expecting. The negatives will come down, the image is going to change," Trump senior adviser Paul Manafort assured the party leaders, according to an audiotape of the session heard by Reuters.
Trump has been "projecting an image" to energize voters, Manafort said, adding that he will soon concentrate on "crooked Hillary," the nickname that Trump has given to Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton.
"You'll see a different guy," said Manafort.
But in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump suggested he was not ready to change from the style that has brought him close to the Republican presidential nomination.
"I just don't know if I want to do it yet," he said.
In recent weeks, Trump has railed against the party for developing what he said was a "rigged" system in which Cruz was able to amass delegates in Colorado without Republicans actually voting.
Chatting over shrimp, crab legs and an open bar, Trump's advisers expressed confidence that their candidate would win the Republican presidential nomination without the party having to resort to a contested convention in Cleveland in July, according to three attendees.
Trump, 69, needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination outright for the Nov. 8 election. Rivals Ted Cruz, 45, and John Kasich, 63, are trying to stop him from getting a majority of delegates, so they can force a contested convention in which one of them could emerge as the nominee.
Cruz told a conservative talk radio host, Mark Levin, that Manafort's comments show that Trump's campaign style "is just an act."
Party leaders told reporters after the session that Trump's envoys said Trump, as the Republican nominee, would be able to expand the party's electoral map to include several states Republicans have not won in a general election in a generation.
One attendee, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore, said the Trump team told the group it expected Trump to adopt a "more presidential demeanor" over the next few weeks.Moore said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether Trump would change. "The proof is in the pudding," he said.
Manafort told reporters after the meeting that "we talked about how we're going to expand the map."
As for how to change the negative image some voters had of Trump, Manafort said: "We just have to present him in a way that shows all sides of Donald Trump."
'STOP FIGHTING AMONG OURSELVES'
Former presidential candidate Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has endorsed Trump, also addressed the group. Talking to reporters as he walked into the meeting, Carson said his message was that Republicans should "stop fighting among ourselves" and unite behind Trump.
“I don’t think anyone can win if the Republican Party and the conservatives don’t consolidate," he said.
Trump, who has alarmed some establishment Republicans with his comments on immigration, Muslims and trade, has begun to moderate his message in recent days.
Trump's campaign has hired staff versed in the ways of Washington and has begun holding regular meetings on Capitol Hill with current and potential supporters.
Trump clashed again on Thursday with Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, this time over a North Carolina law passed last month requiring transgender people to use government and school bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates.
During an appearance at an NBC "Today" show town hall, Trump sided with critics of the law, passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, saying it was unnecessary and that North Carolina was "paying a big price" because of negative business reaction.
His comments drew immediate criticism from Cruz, a staunch social and fiscal conservative who supports the law and said Trump had caved to political correctness as he seeks to broaden his appeal.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Ginger Gibson; Editing by Frances Kerry, Peter Cooney and Simon Cameron-Moore)