Speaker Paul Ryan told House Republicans on a conference call Monday morning that he’s done defending Donald Trump and will focus on maintaining his party’s increasingly imperiled House majority, according to sources on the call.
The message amounted to a concession by the highest-ranking elected Republican that his nominee for president can’t win — and lawmakers should save themselves and the Republican-controlled Congress to act as a check on Hillary Clinton.
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Ryan stopped short of formally rescinding his endorsement of Trump — but just short. His move carries immense risk, and Ryan faced blowback from all sides: Trump and his surrogates warned Republican leaders they would pay a price for breaking from the nominee; some rank-and-file Republicans warned the strategy was a mistake; and immediately after the call, Clinton tweeted to her nearly 10 million followers that “Ryan is still endorsing Trump.”
Trump tweeted after the call that “Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.” And a Trump supporter in the House, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, sharply criticized Republican leaders on the call for not doing enough to support Trump, sources said.
The continued fallout set off alarms among Republicans about a potential down-ballot wave that imperils not only the Senate, which Democrats are already in a strong position to win, but the until-now seemingly impenetrable House majority. At this point, the imperative for vulnerable Republicans on the ballot is simply political survival.
Ryan told his members that “you all need to do what’s best for you in your district,” said a source on the call, giving rank-and-file lawmakers political cover to disavow Trump. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy …