WASHINGTON — Top Republicans suggested on Sunday that Donald Trump needs more public policy schooling, particularly on foreign affairs, to earn the confidence of a fractured party and show he's ready to take on likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
"I think he's going to need to learn. He's going to need to understand really completely ... how complex this world is," said Trump's top Senate ally and top foreign policy adviser, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
To Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., Trump "is a work in progress," more so than most candidates. "Usually you know a lot more about a candidate because they've run for other things. They've cast votes. They've done things. And he does have a shoot-from-the-hip style."
GOP officials are still trying to determine who should be the leading voice for party barely six months before Americans choose their next president in a likely showdown between Trump and Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who held a high-profile meeting in Washington last week, represent two Republican factions. Ryan has said he is not yet ready to back Trump.
With strong opposition among some in the party to Trump, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus used the term "suicide mission" to described any effort to entice an independent, anti-Trump candidate.
Trump and Ryan said after their meeting Thursday that they were committed to unifying the party despite their difference over immigration, Muslim immigrants, taxes, benefit programs and trade. The discussion seemed to thaw relations enough to make a reconciliation seem possible, and the men spoke of keeping the lines of communication open and of finding common ground.
Other Republicans are describing what that means to them.
Ryan's predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, said at a conference of finance industry leaders in Las Vegas on Thursday that he endorsed Trump and that Ryan probably was "trying to help shape the direction of Trump's policies."
What concerns many Republicans is the prospect of their backing Trump and then having him stumble over the party's core policy issues. For example, he once suggested in an MSNBC interview that there should be "some form of punishment" for women who have had abortions. Ultimately, Trump said abortion providers, not women, were the ones who should be punished if abortions were outlawed.
The policy education for Trump and his team appears to be underway.
A few weeks ago, top aide Paul Manafort spent about an hour at the conservative Heritage Foundation Washington as part of what the think tank described as part of an ongoing series of policy briefings for candidates and their advisers. Other Trump officials have been meeting with individual members of the House. Trump himself met with senators on the same day he met with Ryan, and many emerged describing an open-minded, even earnest candidate.
And lately, Trump has taken to describing his policy proposals as merely "suggestions."
But Trump also has said he's his own best foreign policy adviser.
By Sunday, GOP figures were widely acknowledging Trump's learning curve and urging patience.
Sessions said Trump has much to learn about how to talk about matters of war.
"It's just a very, very complex world and you have to be careful when you commit a military force," Sessions said.
Session and Cole were on ABC's "This Week," and Priebus appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Follow Laurie Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman