GOP split deepens over Trump

In stunning move, House Speaker Paul Ryan cuts him loose

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Gazette staff and wire

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans faced a deepening split in their ranks Monday as U.S. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan declared he would no longer defend Donald Trump and instead focus the last four weeks of the presidential campaign on preserving the GOP’s majority in Congress.

He urged fellow Republican lawmakers to do whatever necessary to win Nov. 8, effectively declaring everybody there for themselves.

Ryan drew an immediate backlash on Capitol Hill and at the party’s grass roots as loyalists were stunned the top elected Republican in the country was cutting loose the GOP standard-bearer a scant 29 days before the election.

Trump responded with a slap on Twitter. “Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee,” Trump wrote.

Supporters were equally aggrieved.

“I’m so proud of everyone in this room. You didn’t run,” said Ron Howard, a veteran who introduced Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, at a rally in North Carolina. “The rest of the Republican establishment are running away from the sound of gunfire.”

The backbiting — a day after Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton waged an insult-filled debate and three days after a recording surfaced revealing vulgar remarks Trump made 11 years ago about groping and kissing women — underscored the bind facing the GOP and its leaders.

The choice amounts to rejecting the nominee chosen by voters and risk the party’s base staying home out of pique, or continuing to embrace Trump by overlooking his behavior and possibly alienating women and other swing voters who can make a difference in close congressional races.

“Republicans made a deal with the devil, and when you make a deal with the devil you end up in hell,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist and longtime Trump skeptic.

In Iowa, where the most recent Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Trump ahead, GOP leaders largely have stood by him.

“I’m doing everything I can to support the team from top to bottom, and I’m proud of the quality of candidates that we have.” said GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, whose son is Trump’s state campaign director.

He said he would campaign with both Trump and Pence, who will be in Newton on Tuesday afternoon, if asked.

However, a Republican U.S. House candidate from Iowa City, Christopher Peters, announced Monday he would not vote for either Trump or Clinton. And at the state level, Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, said on Facebook he would not vote for Trump — but write in Pence instead.

The move by Ryan, who has been distinctly cool toward Trump, reflected a growing sense of panic among Republicans that their nominee was not only fated to lose but could face the kind of landslide that would drag many GOP candidates down with him.

A NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted over the weekend, before Sunday night’s debate, found that likely voters sided with Democrats, 49 to 42 percent, when asked which party they would prefer in control of Congress.

Democrats could retake control of the Senate if Clinton is elected and they gain four seats, a goal that seems well within reach. (Her vice presidential running mate, Tim Kaine, could cast a tiebreaking vote.) If Trump is elected, Democrats would need to gain five seats.

Democrats would need to pick up 30 House seats to take control, a number that has seemed far beyond their capacity until the civil war broke out within the GOP.

The Gazette’s Des Moines Bureau and the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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