Trump declines to endorse Paul Ryan, John McCain in Republican primaries

Donald Trump ratcheted up tensions in his Republican Party on Tuesday, denying leading figures support in their re-election bids, while his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton won her first endorsement from a Republican.

Republican candidate says he's 'just not there yet' in support for House Speaker Paul Ryan

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wouldn't fully endorse two top party members, Senator John McCain and House Speaker Paul Ryan. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Tuesday that he is refusing to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain just two weeks after pledging to bring the fractured party together at the nominating convention.

He also ripped into New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte in the same interview with the Washington Post.

All three have primary challengers, and all three disapproved of Trump's criticism of the Muslim-American parents of an army captain killed in Iraq.

Trump's repudiation of Ryan, the nation's most senior elected Republican, carried particular derision.

"I'm just not there yet," Trump said in the interview. Those are very close to the words Ryan used in the long months before he endorsed Trump, telling CNN on May 6, "I'm not there right now."

A statement from Ryan's office says he never asked for Trump's endorsement.

The billionaire celebrity famous for retaliating when he feels insulted, also refused to endorse McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam whom Trump previously derided for having been captured.

"I've never been there with John McCain because I've always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets," Trump told the newspaper Tuesday. "So I've always had a difficult time with John for that reason, because our vets are not being treated properly. They're not being treated fairly."

As for Ayotte, who is running for a second Senate term and skipped the Republican National Convention, Trump said: "You have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn't want to talk about Trump, but I'm beating her in the polls by a lot."

'We don't need weak people'

"We need loyal people in this country," Trump added in the interview. "We need fighters in this country. We don't need weak people."

McCain is locked in a three-way race ahead of an Aug. 30 primary. The primary for Ryan's House seat is next week and Ayotte's primary is next month. All three have said they would support Trump as the presidential nominee.

However, all three chided Trump for engaging in a flap with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of U.S. army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart after his death in 2004. From the podium of the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan criticized Trump's position on Muslims and asked whether Trump had read the Constitution.

Trump said the grieving father had "no right" to criticize him, but later acknowledged their son is a hero.

McCain's response was a lengthy denunciation in which he said the Republican nomination does not confer on Trump "unfettered licence to defame those who are the best among us."

Ryan condemned any criticism of Muslim-Americans who serve their country.

"Capt. Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honoured. Period," Ryan said.

Ayotte declared she was "appalled" by Trump's spat with the Khans.

With files from Reuters