Paul Ryan is greenlighting additional defections from the Trump campaign and has told the GOP conference he will no longer defend or campaign with the Republican nominee. His goal, he told Republican House members on a conference call this morning, is to ensure Republicans maintain a congressional majority so that Hillary Clinton “does not get a blank check with a Democrat-controlled Congress,” according to a source familiar with the conversation.
Though Ryan emphasized he was not taking back his own endorsement of Trump, it was essentially a concession of Republican defeat in November, at least at the top of the ticket. Down ballot, he urged House members to ”handle Trump however best it works in each individual race,” according to a GOP representative present on the call. Ryan’s guidance comes on the heels of a weekend that saw dozens of defections from high-profile Republicans in the wake of the publication of an 11-year-old tape that shows Trump bragging in the most vulgar terms about making unwanted advances on women. Ryan himself rescinded an invitation to the GOP nominee to appear at a gathering of Wisconsin Republicans on Saturday, though he has not withdrawn his support for Trump’s candidacy or called for him to step aside, as many others did over the weekend.
His words got a critical reception from some House members, in particular from California representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Tom McClintock, who argued that abandoning Trump makes little sense at this late stage in the game.
Ryan remains the most popular Republican in the country, however, and his posture towards Trump is being closely watched. He made clear this morning that he would neither defend Trump nor campaign with him over the next month, according to another person on the call. Political analysts began to speculate over the weekend that the publication of Trump’s lewd remarks newly endangered Republicans’ House majority, and a spokeswoman for Ryan, AshLee Strong, says that the speaker “is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities.” To that end, Ryan will be in 17 states and 42 cities fundraising and stumping on behalf of Republican candidates between now and the end of the month.
The thorny question he will still have to answer: whether he will vote for Trump as the GOP increasingly begins to look past November 8th, and toward the future.
EDITOR’s NOTE: This post has been updated since its initial publication.