It was "pretty smart" for Donald Trump to pick a fight with Sen. John McCain, and the more Washington's establishment complains, the wider Trump's anti-establishment reputation will grow, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said Tuesday.
"He's saying real things, just like he's always done in his career, [and] he understands the media well," Schlapp, the former political director for President George W. Bush, told CNN's "New Day" program Tuesday.
Further, he said, Trump's GOP presidential candidacy is climbing in the polls "because he's gotten so much media coverage on the fact he's saying things that ... are controversial."
The polls will change as the 2016 primaries near, said Schlapp, and Trump has had a "rough couple of days in the media" following his statements on McCain
at Saturday's Family Leadership Summit, an evangelical event held in Iowa.
"It's one thing to pick a fight with John McCain; he's strayed from his conservative political beliefs," said Schlapp. "It's a whole other thing to pick a fight with military men and women. I don't think Trump has any intent to have that fight. He has to walk that piece back."
But the more people in Washington criticize and mock Trump, the more voters will flock to him, said Schlapp.
"He's definitely outside the little clique of Republicans in Washington," said Schlapp. "There's something that's very appealing to voters about that type of candidate."
Meanwhile, while most of Trump's GOP rivals have attacked him for his comments about McCain, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has come under some fire for defending McCain while not attacking Trump, as such attacks could backfire.
"I think they each ought to be honest when they get the questions," said Schlapp. "If they have been offended by what Trump said, they can criticize him. There is a feeling that somehow there is kind of a group of Washington, D.C., Republican insiders that usually has the biggest role in picking the nominee."
And "grassroots people want to have their say in who the nominee is going to be," he said. "The more they jump on [Trump], the better he does. It plays on he's the outsider, the underdog."
Candidates should engage Trump, as with all the other candidates on the issues, and "if they have the winning arguments, they are going to win."
The fights over Trump will likely benefit former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, he said.
"The extent to which the Republican process looks like a brawl and chaotic, I think it plays into his major case, which is, look, get to me as soon as you can," said Schlapp. "You think I'm going to get this nomination and I can nail it down quicker. He's going to play into that as well."
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