The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan, the nation’s top elected Republican, effectively abandoned Donald Trump Monday, telling anxious fellow lawmakers he will not campaign for or defend the floundering businessman in the election’s closing weeks. Pro-Trump members rebelled in anger, accusing Ryan of conceding the election to Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, Ryan said he would devote his energy to ensuring Clinton doesn’t get a “blank check” as president with a Democratic-controlled Congress, according to people on his private conference call with GOP House members. While the Wisconsin Republican did not formally rescind his own tepid endorsement of Trump, he told lawmakers they were free to do just that and fight for their own reelection.
Trump fired back on Twitter, saying Ryan “should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.”
Trump retained the backing of the Republican National Committee, which has overseen crucial field efforts for the candidate in battleground states. On a conference call with RNC members, chairman Reince Priebus said the party remains in full coordination with Trump.
“Everything is on course,” Priebus said, according to a participant in the call.
Still, Ryan’s announcement underscored the perilous predicament Republicans find themselves in one month from Election Day. Recent revelations of Trump’s predatory sexual comments about women deepened the worries among GOP officials who fear he’ll drag down their own electoral prospects in November. But others look at Trump’s loyal bands of supporters and see no way for Republicans in other races to win without their support.
Trump himself made no reference to Ryan and the GOP defections at a Pennsylvania rally, except perhaps one line that could apply to fleeing Republicans as well as the Democrats.
“The last 72 hours has framed what this election is all about. It’s about the American people fighting back against corrupt politicians who don’t care about anything except for staying in power,” he said.
Running mate Mike Pence said he was staying with Trump. “I’m honored to be standing with him,” Pence said.
Trump’s candidacy long ago laid bare the turmoil roiling the GOP. Some party leaders had hoped to push off a reckoning until after the election, but with Ryan and other lawmakers publicly distancing themselves from Trump — and in some cases even calling for the real estate mogul to drop out of the race — that now appears impossible.
For Ryan, the most pressing goal through the next four weeks is preventing Republicans from losing control of the House, a scenario that seemed remote as recently as a week ago. Although Republicans are not yet panicking given their wide 246-186 seat majority, Ryan and Greg Walden, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, both acknowledged on Monday’s conference call that the majority was more in peril in light of Trump’s problems.