More Republicans Un-Endorse Trump

More Republicans Un-Endorse Trump
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More than two-dozen elected Republican officials rescinded their endorsements of GOP nominee Donald Trump Saturday or called on him to exit the presidential race, sending his already flagging campaign into a tailspin as the party struggles with whether to continue backing him.

In an unprecedented desertion of a major party’s nominee, the steady stream of un-endorsements began Friday evening and continued through Saturday with senators, House members and several governors saying they could no longer support or vote for Trump after a 2005 audio recording surfaced Friday in which he made lewd remarks about women, including comments about making unwanted sexual advances.

Top Republican officials, including Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, didn’t back off their support of Trump after condemning his comments Friday evening, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who issued a highly critical statement Friday, didn’t rescind his support either. The majority of renouncements came from rank-and-file Republicans, most of whom said they would either write-in vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s name on their ballots, or called on Trump to step aside in favor of his running mate.

In all, at least nine Republican senators, 18 members of the House and four governors rescinded their endorsements or called on Trump to exit the race after the audio surfaced.

Ryan said Friday he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks, and disinvited him from an event in Wisconsin where they had been set to campaign together for the first time. But Ryan declined to withdraw his endorsement or speak further to Trump’s controversial comments during that rally Saturday.

“There is a bit of an elephant in the room. It is a troubling situation. I’m serious, it is,” Ryan said. “I put out a statement about this last night. I meant what I said, and it’s still how I feel. But that is not what we’re here to talk about today.”

Still, not every member of the Republican leadership was silent on the subject Saturday. Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the upper chamber, tweeted that Trump should “withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately.” Aides to Thune and McConnell declined to comment on whether Thune spoke with McConnell before sending the tweet.

Despite top leadership sticking with Trump, the dam began to break Saturday for Republicans in competitive elections this year. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who faced criticism less than a week ago for saying Trump is “absolutely” a role model – a position she reversed less than a day later – said early Saturday that she would no longer vote for Trump.

“I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” Ayotte said in a statement.

She was quickly joined by Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for the open Nevada Senate seat being relinquished by Minority Leader Harry Reid. Heck said he could “no longer look past this pattern of behavior and inappropriate comments from Donald Trump.”

Hours later, Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2008 who is up for re-election this year, rescinded his support of Trump. McCain has been in precarious standing with the Republican nominee for more than a year, ever since Trump accused him of not being a war hero because he was captured and spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Trump refused to endorse McCain in his August primary before later offering conditional support. McCain backed the party’s standard-bearer despite those provocations, but the revelations on Friday proved too much for the Arizona Republican.

“Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy,” McCain said in a statement.

They were the only three senators in competitive races to back off their endorsements of Trump as of Saturday evening, however. Though Senate Republicans running for re-election nearly universally condemned Trump’s comments, some, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, were silent about whether they still planned to support him.

Both Portman and Rubio have endorsed Trump but have attempted to distance themselves from his campaign, and both are leading their challengers by significant margins in the polls. But Toomey, who is locked in a tight race with Democrat Katie McGinty, has not yet made a decision regarding Trump, saying in August he’s “waiting to be persuaded.” Spokespeople for all three senators did not return multiple requests for comment Saturday.

Sen. Ron Johnson, who was set to campaign with Trump in Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, gave a 10-minute speech at the same event as Ryan, but did not mention Trump or the controversy.

Sen. Richard Burr, who’s running neck and neck with former Democratic state legislator Deborah Ross, said he is “going to watch [Trump’s] level of contrition over the next few days to determine my level of support."

Democrats slammed both Republican senators who un-endorsed Trump and those who stuck by their support of him. Ross said Burr was “long past the point when he should have rejected Trump” and criticized him as “exactly what’s wrong with Washington.” New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is challenging Ayotte, said her opponent’s un-endorsement was “based on cold, political calculations about what is in her personal best interest.” Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said Portman is “complicit in Donald Trump's behavior,” and Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is challenging Rubio in Florida, urged the Republican senator to either withdraw his support for Trump or withdraw from the Senate race.

Todd Young, a Republican congressman running for Senate in Indiana, said he is “not sure yet” when asked if he will vote for Trump, according to local CBS affiliate.

A source at the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the organization advised candidates to disavow and repudiate Trump’s comments, but that it was up to individual candidates whether to rescind their endorsements.

In the House, a vast array of lawmakers backed away from the nominee Saturday afternoon. The list included some lawmakers in swing districts facing tough re-elections, like Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Crescent Hardy of Nevada, all of whom said they would no longer vote for Trump. Others in reliable conservative seats, like Alabama Reps. Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne, called for Trump to step down from the campaign.

The fallout from Trump’s comments in the audio clip published by The Washington Post Friday topped what had already been a disastrous week for his candidacy, and put down-ballot Republicans in a precarious position. GOP officials have been confident for months that their candidates had been avoiding any drag from Trump at the top of the ticket, but some were concerned that the latest controversy could put them on shakier ground. 

“Running against Hillary Clinton, all we needed at the top of the ticket was a cup of vanilla ice cream. Instead we got a pile of crap on a cone,” said one GOP operative working on down-ballot races. “There is no right answer on how to handle this as a down-ballot candidate -- there simply has never been a less qualified, more disastrous candidate that won a major party nomination.”

A senior GOP strategist working on Senate races told RCP that there isn’t a single strategy for how different candidates should deal with the fallout from Trump’s comments. The strategist said some senators felt comfortable immediately rescinding their endorsements, while others wanted to give Trump the opportunity to defend himself at the second presidential debate Sunday night.

“There’s no carte blanche what you should do on this. I think it’s different for everyone. I think that some folks are more comfortable going further than others,” the strategist said. “I think a lot of people want to give him the opportunity to speak tomorrow night, and actually speak for himself, and see what he says and how he handles himself."

The strategist also said he thought the Republican National Committee should immediately abandon Trump and re-shift all financial and human resources to maintaining congressional majorities, saying that the RNC is at a “crossroads.”

“The RNC has a choice to make,” the strategist said. “Are they going to put tens of millions, possibly hundreds of millions, into a candidate who has openly admitted that he sexually assaulted women, or are they going to take every one of their human and financial resources into saving the Senate, which can be a check and balance on Hillary?”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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