Ryan Won't Defend Trump, Focuses on House Races
House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republican lawmakers he will neither defend nor campaign for Donald Trump, and will instead focus on preserving the party’s lower chamber majority to prevent a President Hillary Clinton from receiving a “blank check” when it comes to governing.
Ryan’s move is all but a concession that the GOP nominee will lose the presidential race next month. The speaker did not, however, rescind his endorsement of Trump and did not say whether he would vote for him.
“The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said after Ryan concluded a call with the GOP conference the morning after the second presidential debate to assess fallout from the audiotape controversy that drastically altered the campaign.
As to whether Ryan would join the wave of Republican lawmakers and officials withdrawing their support of Trump, with some even calling for the nominee to leave the ticket, Strong said that “there is no update in his position at this time."
The speaker advised members to “do what’s best for you in your district,” according to one participant on the call.
Since endorsing Trump in June, Ryan has repudiated his party’s nominee far more often than he has supported him. In fundraising emails, meanwhile, Ryan has warned against giving a “blank check” to Clinton should she win. By those measures, then, Monday’s announcement seems like little change from the speaker’s stance all along, particularly since he has not withdrawn his endorsement. But the move signals an official position now held by the Republican leadership, and serves as the starkest admission yet that the party doesn’t believe Trump will win the White House.
Ryan’s announcement could trigger more defections. But it’s also possible that Trump’s debate performance could have energized the GOP base, on which many members will depend for re-election. Others from districts where Trump is popular have been concerned about party leadership separating from the nominee.
The speaker’s move is not without precedent. In 1996, GOP leaders and the RNC officially shifted resources away from then-nominee Bob Dole when it became clear he would lose to Bill Clinton. Republican lawmakers employed the “blank check” argument then as a way to preserve their own seats. The strategy was successful: They kept their majority in the Senate -- even gaining two seats -- and in the House. A key difference, however, is that Dole assented to the move and had an interest in helping his party where he could.
For his part, Trump has remained defiant regarding opposition from within the GOP. “So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers -- and elections -- go down!” he tweeted on Saturday as he watched Republicans defect.
On Monday, campaign spokesman Jason Miller tweeted:
Re: today's Congressional call:
Nothing's changed. Mr. Trump’s campaign has always been powered by a grassroots movement, not Washington.— Jason Miller (@JasonMillerinDC) October 10, 2016
James Arkin contributed to this report.