Tension within Donald Trump's campaign was on prominent display Sunday as his campaign manager and top strategist gave dueling appraisals of how well the candidate's efforts toward party unification are going.
Top Trump adviser Paul Manafort called former GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney a "coward" for opting out of a White House bid this cycle and dismissed Republican critics as "sore losers" — echoing comments made by Trump himself on the stump Saturday, when he responded to Romney's criticism by calling him a "choker."
But Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, downplayed the rift within the party, insisting that "Republicans understand there's a clear choice" in the general election, between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Trump, and declaring that the campaign's "happy with the unification process which has taken place already."
It was a jarring and public display of the private discord that's plagued the Trump campaign for months, as Lewandowski and Manafort have been dueling behind the scenes for control over the campaign's strategy and message as Trump heads into a general election showdown with Clinton.
Trump on Saturday seemed more inclined towards Manafort's view of the persistent party critics — chief among them Mitt Romney, who said at his retreat this weekend he wouldn't be voting for the GOP presidential contender because he was concerned at the possibility of "trickle-down racism." Another prominent GOP voice, major donor Meg Whitman, reportedly compared Trump to Mussolini and Hitler.
On the stump in Tampa, Trump called Romney a "stone-cold loser," and hours later in Pittsburgh said "like a dog [Romney] choked" in his last race for president and called his criticism "absolutely pathetic."
Manafort said on ABC News' "This Week" that if Romney was so concerned about Trump's campaign, "he should have run. He was a coward."
He also dismissed Trump's other GOP critics as "sitting in their cocoon, you know, away from the reality of the world. I mean, Donald Trump is none of those things. And this is sore losers."
And others within the campaign seemed to agree. Trump Social Media Director Dan Scavino issued a tweet endorsing an op-ed by Wayne Allyn Root declaring that "Paul Ryan is the reason the GOP is losing America" and declaring to Trump: "Don't change a thing."
But Lewandowski sounded a different note on Sunday, telling CBS' "Face the Nation" that he didn't believe Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted Trump to change — rather, they were all on the same page on policy.
"I don't think they're asking for him to change. What they want is to understand what the policies are that Donald Trump wants to put forward. And we've talked about this many times with the leaders in Congress," he said.
Lewandowski said Trump wanted to cut taxes, reduce the national deficit and renegotiate trade deals, "things that everybody agrees with" within the GOP.
"And Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan all agree that that's the right path forward for our country."
While Manafort and Lewandowski differed on GOP unification efforts, the two were unified in responding to a new ad from Clinton's campaign highlighting comments Trump made at rallies calling for violence against a protester and mocking a disabled reporter.
Trump responded to the ad in a tweet on Sunday, declaring "Clinton made a false ad about me where I was imitating a reporter GROVELING after he changed his story. I would NEVER mock disabled. Shame!"
Manafort echoed that tweet when asked to respond on ABC, saying Trump wasn't mocking the reporter and that "he's dealt with that issue," and that Trump has no plans to apologize for the incident.
Lewandowski called the charge that Trump was mocking the reporter "appalling" and "completely unfounded."
Manafort also downplayed the possibility of a contested convention, which has picked up renewed steam over the past week as Trump's stumbles have fueled continued concern from Republicans that his candidacy could doom their White House chances. Manafort said that "there are very few people talking about that," dismissing them as "the malcontents who have not been happy that Donald Trump beat all of them."
"The delegates to the convention who we're dealing with on a regular basis are looking forward for an exciting time," he said. "There aren't going to be any serious issues in Cleveland. People are banding together."