House Speaker Paul Ryan dealt his own party’s presidential nominee a withering blow Monday, telling fellow Republicans he will no longer defend Donald Trump and will instead use the next 29 days to focus on preserving his party’s hold on Congress.
“The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities,” Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said in a statement.
CNN reported that the move highly unusual in US political history laid bare the seemingly intractable divisions now seizing the Republican Party with a month left before the presidential vote. Support for Trump among the GOP establishment, already weak amid disagreements over policy and tone, has now eroded to new lows.
In a conference call with members Monday morning, Ryan told lawmakers, “you all need to do what’s best for you and your district,” according to someone who listened to the meeting.
“He will spend his entire energy making sure that Hillary Clinton does not get a blank check with a Democrat-controlled Congress,” said the person on the call — an implied acknowledgment that Trump no longer appears able to capture the White House.
Reaction to Ryan’s decision illustrates the schism currently splitting the Republican Party. A person who listened to the call said the reaction wasn’t entirely positive — and that Ryan’s comments angered more conservative GOP members who believed the speaker was essentially conceding the presidential contest to Clinton.
Trump responded to the House speaker on Twitter Monday, saying Ryan should focus on other policy areas instead of fighting with the Republican nominee.
“Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee,” Trump said.
At least eight members angrily pushed back at Ryan, saying the party needs to be united headed into November to keep the majority. One member, two sources on call said, pointedly told Ryan that the better Trump does in November, the better the House GOP will do.
“It’s not rocket science,” the member said.
Among the people who objected to Ryan: Rep. Billy Long of Missouri, a Trump supporter, Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California.
Ryan’s comments follow a Washington Post story out Friday which revealed Trump made lewd and sexually aggressive comments in 2005 that were caught on a hot microphone. Trump apologized for those remarks at Sunday’s debate, but dismissed them as “locker room talk” and pivoted to attacks on former President Bill Clinton.