“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.
The move — highly unusual in US political history — laid bare the seemingly intractable divisions now seizing the Republican Party with a month left before the presidential vote. Support for Trump among the GOP establishment, already weak amid disagreements over policy and tone, has now eroded to new lows.
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. Reaction to Ryan’s decision illustrates the schism currently splitting the Republican Party. A person who listened to the call said the reaction wasn’t entirely positive — and that Ryan’s comments angered more conservative GOP members who believed the speaker was essentially conceding the presidential contest to Clinton.
Trump hits back
Trump responded to the House speaker on Twitter Monday, saying Ryan should focus on other policy areas instead of fighting with the 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.
Ryan under scrutiny
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 But Ryan rescinded his invitation after the new comments came to light.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.