Donald Trump is driving a wedge through the House GOP, showing no signs of backing off his now daily attacks on Paul Ryan, even as the Republican nominee’s top congressional supporters urge him to stop the intraparty war.
The relentless assault from the GOP nominee — Trump blasted Ryan again during a Florida rally Wednesday — is dividing even Republicans who support Trump, with some saying the speaker should get behind the real estate mogul, while other members argue Trump has gone too far.
Right now, Trump isn’t heeding those calls. In his latest series of attacks aimed at the House speaker, Trump accused the Wisconsin Republican and other GOP leaders of turning their backs on him because “there’s a whole sinister deal going on.”
But just hours before on a conference call among several dozen Trump Hill surrogates and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, several lawmakers argued that criticizing Ryan isn’t productive, according to a source on the call who is close to the campaign.
While it was not the focus of the call, which was billed as a chance to “rally the troops” following several very difficult days for Trump’s White House bid, the plea for peace underscored the growing rift in the Republican Party.
Several Trump Hill surrogates say they aren’t happy that Ryan has broken with Trump — after his taped remarks showed him bragging about making sexual advances on women without their consent — but they understand the speaker needs to protect the House and is looking for the best way to do it. Putting distance between House Republicans and Trump may be the best way to protect vulnerable members who could get swept away if a Democratic wave materializes.
A few surrogates, who the source would not name, advised the campaign that Trump should stick with attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The source said Conway agreed with them.
“It was people being like, ‘Donald Trump, the focus needs to be on why Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are different; not fighting between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan,’” the source recalled. “The focus of our efforts need to be on the enemy, not self-inflicted fire.”
Other House Republicans say Ryan has gone too far. On Wednesday morning, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who voted for Ryan on the House floor earlier this year, tweeted that he’d withdraw support for the speaker over the recent spat with Trump.
“Given the stakes of this election, if Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump, then I’m not for Paul Ryan,” he wrote.
So far, Trump’s shown no sign that he’ll relent.
At the Ocala, Florida rally, Trump warned supporters “this is the last time you’ll ever have a chance to save our country,” going on to criticize Ryan and other party leaders for not reaching out after Sunday’s presidential debate.
“So wouldn’t you think that Paul Ryan would call and say, ‘Good going?’ In front of just about the largest for a second-night debate in the history of the country,” Trump said Wednesday.
But Ryan doesn’t do that, Trump lamented, floating the theory that party leaders are conspiring against him and striking backroom deals. “There’s a whole deal going on there,” he said.
Trump also took a shot at Ryan’s leadership position on the Bill O’Reilly show Tuesday night, implying that he might not be House speaker next year if the real estate tycoon wins the White House. But it was unclear exactly how Trump thought Ryan would be removed.
In a Twitter rant a day earlier, Trump accused Ryan of being “disloyal” and a “very weak and ineffective leader.” And during his interview with O’Reilly, he accused the budget policy wonk of backing “very, very bad budgets” and favoring “open borders and amnesty.”
“The fact is, I think we should get support, and we don’t get the support from guys like Paul Ryan,” Trump said. “I’m just tired of nonsupport, and I don’t really want his support. This happens all the time — if you sneeze, he calls up and announces, ‘Isn’t that a terrible thing.’ So look, I don’t want his support, I don’t care about his support.”
Trump’s attacks on Ryan follow the speaker’s decision Monday to tell the House Republican Conference he was done with Trump, could no longer defend him and would not campaign with him. Sources say the explosion of the 2005 “ Access Hollywood” video — in which Trump can be heard bragging about kissing women without their consent and even grabbing them by their genitals because he’s famous — was the last straw for Ryan.
While he didn’t withdraw his endorsement, Ryan made it clear that he was distancing himself from the nominee to focus on protecting the House’s historically large GOP majority.
But the conference appears divided, as even a few Trump Hill surrogates say they have no animosity toward Ryan. (Other surrogates, to be fair, do.)
Multiple House sources said while it’s always hard to take a real temperature of the caucus while members aren’t in Washington, the outrage expressed by Bridenstine doesn’t seem to be widespread. Many members, even if they don’t like the idea of abandoning the GOP nominee, understand the precarious position Trump continues to put Ryan in, said one source, especially with the now daily barrage of attacks against the speaker.
That could change, however, in the coming days — particularly as several lawmakers who had backed away form Trump this weekend flip-flopped and said they’d vote for their nominee.
The source close to the campaign said the Wednesday call was otherwise “uneventful.” Conway laid out the difference between Trump and Clinton and “made the case why it’s so important that Trump win.” They talked about jobs and “corruption,” the source said, which appears to refer to Clinton’s public trust problem following the ongoing Clinton Foundation and email scandals.
“It was just to reiterate support and just sort of rally the troops and reiterate why Donald Trump is the better choice come November for America,” the source said.
The campaign brought up the 2005 video that sent the party into a downward spiral last Friday but said Trump was moving on from the dust-up after apologizing.
The source said no member touched that explosive matter.
Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.
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