LAS VEGAS (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday the Republican establishment is "warming up" to his candidacy as he ramped up his attacks against his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
"I think they're warming up. I want to be honest, I have received so many phone calls from people that you would call establishment, from people — generally speaking ... conservatives, Republicans — that want to come onto our team," Trump told reporters in Las Vegas before an appearance at the Outdoor Sportsman Awards.
"We are getting calls from everybody that it's actually amazing. I'm actually surprised," he added. He declined to provide names.
The comments came not long after the conservative magazine National Review published its latest issue online featuring a collection of scathing anti-Trump essays from noted conservatives, underscoring the deep resistance that remains to his unorthodox candidacy, despite his commanding lead in early polls.
Trump responded by calling it "a dying paper" out for publicity.
In addition to criticism from some conservative circles for some of his positions, the billionaire businessman has also faced resistance from the Republican establishment, which remains largely splintered between candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich
At an earlier rally, Trump painted himself as a pragmatic dealmaker capable of working with lawmakers, in contrast with Cruz, his top rival in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.
Cruz is an ideological purist who has long argued that Republicans need to elect a conservative who will energize the base instead of another moderate.
"You know what? There's a point at which: Let's get to be a little establishment," Trump told the crowd at the South Point resort and casino. "We've got to get things done folks, OK? Believe me, don't worry. We're going to make such great deals."
The author of "The Art of the Deal" suggested that Cruz, largely boxed out of Senate deal-making circles, can't operate effectively in office.
"Guys like Ted Cruz will never make a deal because he's a strident guy," Trump said, pushing back against the idea that collaboration is a dirty word. He pointed to the famous relationship between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill in the 1980s. "That's what the country's about really, isn't it?"
He repeated that refrain later Thursday as he presented himself as the kind of leader who could bridge both wings of the party.
"The party has to be healed; it has to be brought together," he said. "And I think the party can be brought together."
Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, Cruz repeated his charge that the Republican establishment is "rushing to support Donald Trump."
"So if, as a voter, you think what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with" congressional Democratic leaders, Cruz said, "then I guess Donald Trump is your guy."
At the awards ceremony, held in conjunction with a gun show, Trump reiterated his support for the Second Amendment — a topic that has been a constant refrain at his rallies and often draws loud applause.
"We're going to protect the people in this room and what they love," he told those gathered in an ornate ballroom at the Venetian resort casino. The hotel is owned by Republican Party mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Trump's defense of gun ownership rights during the campaign marks a departure for the billionaire businessman, who had previously supported a ban on assault weapons.
Trump also announced the endorsement of "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson, who introduced him at the event.
Colvin reported from West Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Manchester, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.