Paul Ryan said he won’t defend Donald Trump; will focus on preserving party
House Speaker Paul Ryan told fellow Republicans Monday he will no longer defend GOP nominee Donald Trump and will instead use the next 29 days to focus on preserving his party’s hold on Congress.
“The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities,” Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said in a statement.
In a conference call with members Monday morning, Ryan told lawmakers, “you all need to do what’s best for you and your district,” according to someone who listened to the meeting.
“He will spend his entire energy making sure that Hillary Clinton does not get a blank check with a Democrat-controlled Congress,” said the person on the call — an implied acknowledgment that Trump no longer appears able to capture the White House.
Ryan’s comments follow a Washington Post story out Friday, which revealed Trump made lewd and sexually aggressive comments in 2005 that were caught on a hot microphone. Trump apologized for those remarks at Sunday’s debate, but dismissed them as “locker room talk” and pivoted to attacks on former President Bill Clinton.
But he did make clear that he would no longer provide proactive support for his party’s presidential candidate. A source said Ryan would campaign in 17 states and 42 cities this month.
Trump’s campaign spokesman Jason Miller tweeted after the news broke, “Nothing’s changed. Mr. Trump’s campaign has always been powered by a grassroots movement, not Washington.”
A Trump campaign source told CNN the campaign has told members of Congress from the beginning to focus on winning their seats, even if that means abandoning Trump because the campaign wants as big a Republican majority as possible come January.
Afterward, a person who listened to the call said the reaction wasn’t entirely positive — and that Ryan’s comments angered some GOP members who believed the Speaker was essentially conceding the presidential contest to Clinton.
Ryan spokesman Zack Roday said the speaker “made it clear on the call he’s not conceding the presidential race.”
The speaker’s actions in the aftermath of the lewd tape’s release have been closely monitored given Ryan’s initial reluctance to get behind Trump when he clinched the GOP nomination.
Dozens of fellow Republican lawmakers withdrew their support for Trump, many insisting he should withdraw from the race entirely. The defections came largely from Republican lawmakers facing tough re-election battles, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte. In the House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said Trump should step aside.
Trump and Ryan were originally set to appear together in Wisconsin on Saturday. But Ryan rescinded his invitation after the new comments came to light. Over the weekend, his office remained largely quiet about how he would respond to the explosive reports about Trump’s past behavior.
But on the call Monday, the message was unequivocal: Trump will no longer enjoy whatever political firepower Ryan could bring to the presidential race in its final stretch.
CNN’s Dana Bash and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.