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