House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) told fellow House Republicans Monday that he would no longer campaign with or defend Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and encouraged Republican House members to distance themselves from Trump if doing so would help them win re-election.
According to House members who were on the call, Ryan said that each Republican needed to do "what's best for you in your district," and stated that his focus would be on retaining the Republican House majority, rather than defending Trump.
When word of Ryan's call reached Trump, the mercurial Trump immediately fired back on Twitter, saying "Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting 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— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2016
The public dustup between Trump and Ryan highlights a simmering and growing divide among elected Republicans about whether the party should continue to stand behind Trump after a damaging hot-mic conversation leaked over the weekend that featured Trump discussing using his celebrity to force himself on women in lewd and explicit terms. In the wake of these comments, dozens of elected Republicans — including many high-ranking members of the Republican caucus — have either withdrawn their endorsement of Trump or outright called for his withdrawal from the race.
However, Trump still has a significant number of backers, particularly in conservative House districts, who openly criticized Ryan for his actions on the call. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Some conservatives expressed alarm with Ryan's tone, according to those on the call.
California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher called Republican leaders "cowards," one person on the call said.
Although Trump received almost no endorsements from congressional Republicans during his primary campaign, many now believe that sticking by him through the election is the right strategic move, especially given a recent poll showing that a majority of Republican voters believe that Republican leaders should stick by Trump even after his recent comments.