In­tent on sav­ing GOP’s ma­jor­ity, Ryan turns his back on Trump

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Z. Barabak and Lisa Mascaro

WASH­ING­TON — With Election Day less than a month off, Repub­li­cans faced an ex­tra­or­di­nary breach in party ranks Mon­day as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan de­clared he would no longer de­fend pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump and in­stead fo­cus on pre­serv­ing the GOP’s ma­jor­ity in Congress.

With­out for­mally with­draw­ing his en­dorse­ment, Ryan nonethe­less de­liv­ered a sting­ing blow to Trump, urg­ing Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in a con­fer­ence call to do what­ever they needed to win Nov. 8 — even if it meant cut­ting loose from the party’s na­tional stan­dard-bearer.

Ryan’s state­ments drew an im­me­di­ate back­lash on Capi­tol Hill and at the party’s grass roots, as loy­al­ists were stunned the top elected Repub­li­can in the coun­try would aban­don Trump at a time party lead­ers would nor­mally be ramp­ing up ef­forts to take back the White House.

Trump re­sponded with a slap on Twitter. “Paul Ryan should spend more time on bal­anc­ing the bud­get, jobs and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and not waste his time on fight­ing Repub­li­can nom­i­nee,” Trump wrote.

Sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing some l aw­mak­ers who scolded Ryan dur­ing the pri­vate call, were equally ag­grieved.

“What’s go­ing on is our lead­er­ship pan­icked when there was a mas­sive dis­clo­sure of a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion that Trump had 11 years ago in which he was grotesquely sex­ual and ego­tis­ti­cal,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Hunt­ing­ton Beach, who called Ryan’s move cow­ardly.

The back­bit­ing, a day af­ter Trump and his Demo­cratic ri­val Hil­lary Clinton waged a sear­ing, in­sult­filled de­bate, un­der­scored the bind fac­ing the GOP and its lead­ers, who had come around to Trump’s can­di­dacy with vary­ing de­grees of en­thu­si­asm.

The choice amounts to re­ject­ing the can­di­date se­lected by vot­ers and risk the party’s base stay­ing home out of pique, or con­tin­u­ing to em­brace Trump — over­look­ing his of­fen­sive be­hav­ior — and pos­si­bly alien­at­ing women and other swing vot­ers who can make a dif­fer­ence in close House and Se­nate con­tests.

Seek­ing to clamp down on spec­u­la­tion the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee was also primed to cut Trump loose, Chair­man Reince Priebus told mem­bers the or­ga­ni­za­tion would con­tinue to stand be­hind and work on be­half of Trump through its “Vic­tory” pro­gram, which aims to boost Repub­li­cans up and down the ticket.

Priebus of­fered his as­sur­ance in a pri­vate con­fer­ence call Mon­day af­ter­noon with RNC mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to two par­tic­i­pants who asked not to be iden­ti­fied dis­cussing in­ter­nal party busi­ness.

The get- out- the-vote sup­port is cru­cial to Trump, who has ig­nored the rudi­men­ta­ries of cam­paign build­ing and is count­ing al­most en­tirely on the RNC and lo­cal par­ties to regis­ter vot­ers and en­sure they cast their bal­lots.

Trump is trail­ing Clinton by more than 30 points in Maryland, ac­cord­ing to three polls con­ducted since Au­gust, but Repub­li­cans run­ning for election in the state this year are stick­ing by the GOP nom­i­nee. They are do­ing so de­spite the fact that Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan long ago said he would not vote for Trump.

State Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Repub­li­can run­ning for re­tir­ing Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski’s seat, has re­peat­edly been pressed about her sup­port for Trump. Szeliga of­ten touts her sta­tus as a mother and grand­mother on the cam­paign trail, and laments that state Democrats have not nom­i­nated a woman to serve in Congress next year.

Szeliga, a Bal­ti­more County law­maker, said she was “ap­palled” by Trump’s com­ments, but did not with­draw her sup­port.

Her Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Mont­gomery County, has tried to tie Szeliga to Trump through­out much of the race. The Van Hollen cam­paign is­sued a state­ment Mon­day re­it­er­at­ing the crit­i­cism.

“What will it take for Del. Szeliga to fi­nally walk away from a can­di­date who has not only at­tacked women, but im­mi­grants, mi­nori­ties, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, POWs, Mus­lims, and Pres­i­dent Obama with his racist birther com­ments?” Van Hollen spokes­woman House Speaker Paul Ryan, shown at a rally Satur­day in Wis­con­sin, has urged Repub­li­can law­mak­ers to do what­ever they need to win Nov. 8 — even if it means cut­ting loose from Don­ald Trump. Bridgett Frey said.

Maryland Repub­li­cans are in a tough spot po­lit­i­cally: In most cases, to have any chance of win­ning, they need sup­port from vir­tu­ally all Repub­li­cans — mean­ing they can­not af­ford to wave off a por­tion of the Repub­li­can base that backs Trump. On the other hand, given the high share of reg­is­tered Democrats in the state, they also need to ex­pand their base to in­de­pen­dents and Democrats.

Rep. Andy Har­ris of Bal­ti­more County, the only Repub­li­can in Maryland’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, does not face that prob­lem, given that his district was drawn in 2011 to be a GOP strong­hold. But he has another per­pet­ual chal­lenge: Mak­ing sure his right flank is pro­tected against any fu­ture pri­mary chal­lenge.

Har­ris, a mem­ber of the Trump cam­paign’s Catholic ad­vi­sory group, said Mon­day that the nom­i­nee’s words were “wrong.” But, he said, “our na­tion faces ma­jor ques­tions with re­gards to our eco­nomic and na­tional se­cu­rity, and in those ar­eas of con­cern Don­ald Trump stands head and shoul­ders above Hil­lary Clinton.”

Amie Hoe­ber, a for­mer deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of the Army and the Repub­li­can can­di­date in Maryland’s 6th Con­gres­sional District said she was “of­fended” by Trump’s re­marks. She is run­ning against in­cum­bent Demo­cratic Rep. John De­laney in a district that was more com­pet­i­tive in 2014 than most pre­dicted.

“The proper re­sponse is a re­jec­tion of the sex­ist abu­sive at­ti­tude,” Hoe­ber said in a state­ment. “It is not, in my view, ap­pro­pri­ate to re­spond by sub­ject­ing our great coun­try to the dam­age it would suf­fer un­der a Hil­lary Clinton pres­i­dency.”

The move by Ryan, who has kept his dis­tance from Trump through­out his can­di­dacy, re­flected a grow­ing sense of panic among Repub­li­cans that their nom­i­nee was not only fated to lose the pres­i­den­tial race but could face the kind of land­slide that would drag many GOP can­di­dates down with him.

A NBC News/ Wall Street Jour­nal sur­vey con­ducted over the week­end, be­fore Sun­day night’s de­bate, showed Clinton pulling out to a 52 per­cent-38 per­cent lead over Trump. In a four­way match-up in­clud­ing Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date Gary John­son and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, Clinton led by 11 per­cent­age points.

The sur­vey was in line with other polls that sug­gested sup­port for Trump slip­ping even be­fore a 2005 video sur­faced on Fri­day show­ing him boast­ing that his celebrity al­lows him to grope and kiss women against their will.

More wor­ri­some on Capi­tol Hill, likely vot­ers sided with Democrats, 49 per­cent to 42 per­cent, when asked which party they would pre­fer in con­trol of Congress. The re­sult is up from a 3-point Demo­cratic ad­van­tage last month.

Democrats could re­take con­trol of the Se­nate if Clinton is elected and they gain four seats, a goal that seems well within reach. (Her vice pres­i­den­tial run­ning mate, Tim Kaine, would be po­si­tioned to break a 50-50 tie.) If Trump is elected, Democrats would need to gain five seats.

Democrats must pick up 30 House seats to take con­trol, a num­ber that has seemed far beyond their ca­pac­ity un­til civil war broke out within the GOP.

Dozens of party lead­ers and elected of­fi­cials ei­ther re­scinded their en­dorse­ment of Trump or said they would not vote for him af­ter the video sur­faced. In Sun­day night’s de­bate, Trump apol­o­gized for his re­marks and char­ac­ter­ized them as “locker room” talk that be­lied his true feel­ings.

Ryan cut his ties to Trump in a Mon­day morn­ing con­fer­ence call with GOP law­mak­ers, telling Repub­li­cans they should “do what’s best for you in your district,” ac­cord­ing to a par­tic­i­pant who was granted anonymity to dis­cuss the pri­vate ses­sion.

About a dozen mem­bers spoke up on the call, and most dis­agreed with the speaker.

“The best way to en­sure a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the House is to make Don­ald Trump the most suc­cess­ful can­di­date we can make him,” one of the par­tic­i­pants, Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, said in an in­ter­view af­ter­ward.

Kellyanne Con­way, cam­paign man­ager, ac­cused GOP law­mak­ers of hypocrisy.

“I would talk to some of the mem­bers of Congress out there, when I was younger and pret­tier, them rub­bing up against girls, stick­ing their tongues down women’s throats,” she said on MSNBC. “Some of them, by the way, are on the list of peo­ple who won’t sup­port Don­ald Trump be­cause they all ride around on a high horse.”

Trump also re­ceived a firm vote of sup­port from his vice pres­i­den­tial run­ning mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, hours af­ter the pres­i­den­tial hope­ful took a swipe dur­ing the de­bate.

Mak­ing the rounds on ca­ble TV, Pence in­sisted he was fully be­hind Trump af­ter ini­tially re­fus­ing to de­fend his sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive and preda­tory com­ments. “It is ab­so­lutely false to think at any time we con­sid­ered drop­ping off this ticket,” Pence said on CNN. “I look for­ward to cam­paign­ing ... with Don­ald Trump.”

MAN­DEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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