Trump aide Lewandowski defends Martinez criticism, says focus should be jobs and economy

Top Donald Trump aide Corey Lewandowski on Sunday defended Trump’s recent criticism of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a fellow Republican, and deflected a host of other complaints about Trump's presidential campaign, saying the real issues are jobs and the economy.

“The governor is not doing the job,” Lewandowski said about Martinez on “Fox News Sunday,” in a sharp exchange with host Chris Wallace. “Let’s get it right. … This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. We stand by our statement.”

Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, is being chastised by party leaders and others for attacking a Latino Republican governor, in her home state, particularly when Republicans sorely need the minority and female vote to win the general election.

"Your governor has got to do a better job," Trump said at a rally Tuesday in Albuquerque, hitting Martinez on high state unemployment and other issues. "She's not doing the job. Hey, maybe I'll run for governor of New Mexico. I'll get this place going."

The remarks quelled speculation that Trump might pick Martinez, also chairman of the Republican Governors Association, as his running mate and brought to her defense such GOP leaders as House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Martinez endorsed for the party’s presidential nomination.

Martinez's office responded by telling reporters in a statement: "Apparently, Donald Trump doesn't realize Governor Martinez wasn't elected in 2000, that she has fought for welfare reform, and has strongly opposed the president's Syrian refugee plan."

Lewandowski on Sunday argued the real issues are jobs, the economy and immigration.

“We need to stop illegal immigration,” he said. “We need to put people back to work, cut taxes. That’s what this is about.”

Lewandowski also argued his purported disputes with fellow top campaign adviser Paul Manafort are media hype, saying they speak several times daily and work together on key decisions.

He also defended Trump’s decision not to debate Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, suggesting the billionaire businessman was joking when he brought up the idea.

Lewandowski said the campaign is “solely focused” on beating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“We’re not going to waste our time debating Bernie Sanders when he’s not going to be the nominee,” he said.

Sanders said Friday night on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” that he would still “love” to debate Trump and essentially asked him to reconsider.

“Trump claims to be a real tough guy, pushes people around. Hey Donald, come on up and let's debate about the future of America," Sanders said.

Lewandowski also defended against criticism that the campaign staff is too small to win a general election against one as deep and far-reaching as Clinton’s.

“We’ve been leaner with better results,” said Lewandowski, arguing the campaign won’t have 700 or 800 people, like Clinton’s. “We spent less money, got better results.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.