Chairman of the RNC: Not Worried About the Rise of Donald Trump

AP Images
Donald Trump gives Lindsey Graham's cell phone number to the public.

"I think that people understand that every [candidate ] speaks for themselves."

GOP Chairman Reince Priebus appeared on Today this morning to speak with Savannah Guthrie about how the race for the Republican nomination is shaping up  — and, of course, the biggest elephant in the room, Donald Trump.

Guthrie began by asking why, in spite of his stream of vitriolic attacks on everyone from the Mexican people to John McCain to his fellow candidates, he continues to surge in the polls.

"Why do you think people are responding to him?" asked Guthrie. "He is zooming ahead in every poll."

Priebus responded by acknowledging Trump's appeal to "people who are very frustrated with Washington, frustrated — I think — in many places with both parties." He then compared Trump's ascension to that of Bernie Sanders who currently is polling at "35 percent in the Democratic race."

While Priebus tried to direct the focus away from Trump and to the race in general, saying that what excites him is that "most [Republican candidates] are already beating Hilary Clinton in important states," Guthrie pulled the conversation back to the Trump's role in shaping the race.

"Do you worry that there may be long term damage to the Republican brand? … If people think 'Republican party equals Trump,' is that bad for you?" pressed Guthrie.

"I don't see that, Savannah," said Priebus. "I think that people understand that everyone speaks for themselves … But I do agree that tone matters and how you speak matters—it's kind of like what our moms told us. Sometimes it's not what you say, it's how you say it."

Asking if Priebus feared the possibility that Trump might decide to run as an Independent, which could prove to be a dangerous scenario for Republicans who would then face the possibility that Trump could shear off enough Republican votes to pave the way for Hilary to take the White House. "Do you have to tiptoe around him to make sure that doesn't happen?" Guthrie asked.

"No, I don't think so," replied Priebus. But he did add that he thought that Republican candidates should pledge to run as a third party candidate.

Ultimately, Priebus suggested that there was an advantage to having so much choice in the race for the Republican nomination, contrasting the crowded field with the Democratic race: "It's not bad to have a battle instead of a coronation, like Hilary Clinton."

Watch the full interview below.