Priebus: 'I think there's work to do' on Trump, party tone

Politico Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speak during a Politico Playbook Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 6, 2016. (CNN Newsource)

As the fissured GOP struggles to unite conservatives who support Donald Trump and those who fervently oppose him, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus admits both his party and its presumptive presidential nominee need to change their tone.

On Friday morning at a Politico Playbook Breakfast held in Northwest Washington, Priebus discussed with Politico Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen a key issue mentioned in the GOP's Growth & Opportunity Project (see full report below) -- the party's "record low" public perception and the feeling among many minorities that "Republicans do not like them or want them in the country."

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Priebus said, "You also need to have the tone at the top be the kind of tone that people believe, obviously, you like them. If people don't think you like them, then they're not going to vote for you."

Allen interjected, "So, do Hispanics think that Donald Trump likes them?"

"Number one, I think there's work to do. And I think that there is work on tone to do," Priebus answered to a chuckling audience. "I've been clear about that. I've said that many times, this is not, like, breaking news. I've said that recently."

Priebus says he has spoken to the brash billionaire about his rhetoric, saying Trump "understands it ... I think he gets it. I think you're going to see it. I think you're going to see the change in tone."

Less than 24 hours before, Trump, self-proclaimed hater of political correctness, had offended many and started a social media firestorm when he tweeted a picture of himself eating a taco bowl that said, "Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!"

RELATED | Donald Trump tweets #CincoDeMayo photo eating taco bowl, 'I love Hispanics'

Priebus told Allen he had heard about the controversial tweet, but hadn't seen it (he "had other things to deal with yesterday afternoon," presumably referring to House Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement that he is not ready to support Trump).

"Uh, he's trying," Priebus offered. "Honestly. He's trying. And I'll tell you what, I honestly think he understands that building and unifying and growing the party is the only way we're going to win. And I think he gets that."

RELATED | Trump fires back at Paul Ryan: 'not ready to support' Speaker's agenda

Quick to remind voters of Trump's many controversial comments about Hispanics and illegal immigrants was his likely Democratic challenger in the general election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She tweeted, "'I love Hispanics!' -- Trump, 52 minutes ago 'They're gonna be deported.' -- Trump, yesterday"

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Throughout the primary season, Priebus has been the target of Trump's harsh, ongoing criticism that the GOP presidential nomination process is "rigged."

"I'm not quite sure what the rhetoric is all about," Priebus told NBC's "Today" on April 15.

"But the truth is that these plans have been in place since October of last year. It was the same system that elected Abraham Lincoln. It's pretty much the same system that the Democrats use. Delegates and voters choose the nominee -- that's what's happening. And, quite frankly, the complaining that goes on is something that I think probably distracts from what we really need to do, which is to come together as Republicans ... it really isn't something that most people really give a darn about."

Even after his opponents Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the race earlier this week, Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday he still thinks the system he championed is "100-percent" rigged.

"It's a bad system. It's a crooked system," he said. "It's a dishonest system."

With Cruz and Kasich out of the picture, Priebus and Trump appear to have mended fences for the sake of the Republican Party. The RNC chairman admits he has needled Trump a bit about his "rigged" comments.

Does Priebus think the Republican nomination process needs to be changed?

"I think that there are some things that can be looked at, but it's not that easy," he said Friday. "We tend to respect states and their rights ... what matters is that the states themselves adopt their own delegate rules."

Priebus also expressed a desire to improve the debate process.

"We're not going to have a calendar that no one can count on ... we're going to have a set calendar," he said. "And we're going to have some say on who the moderators are. I mean, we're not going to have [MSNBC's] Chris Matthews conducting the Republican Party debate."

Priebus added that he supports closed primaries, in which only registered Republicans could vote.

"I believe that only Republicans should vote in Republican primaries and contests," he said.

Change may also be coming to the convention. Allen referred to an April Washington Post article in which Trump called the 2012 convention "the single most boring convention I've ever seen," and said, "it's very important to put some showbiz into a convention, otherwise people are going to fall asleep."

"I like the idea of having more of a fun convention if it's showbiz, if it's entertainment, whatever the case may be," Priebus said. "I like that idea, but with every suggestion comes millions of dollars in money. So, the suggestions are great, but there has to be a pretty big influx of cash to do something like that."

Priebus, who is currently serving his third term as RNC chairman, hinted his days as the head of the GOP may be numbered.

"I'll figure that out after November ... I'm not 100-percent, absolutely certain that I wouldn't rule out a fourth term," he said. "Probably not, but I haven't decided."


Follow Lindsey Leake on Twitter (@NewsyLindsey) and Like her Facebook page.

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