Donald Trump declared war Tuesday on the Republican establishment, lashing out at House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain and other GOP elected officials as his supporters geared up to join the fight amid extraordinary turmoil within the party just four weeks before Election Day.
One day after Ryan announced he would no longer campaign on Trump’s behalf, the GOP nominee said as part of a barrage of tweets that the top-ranking Republican representative from Wisconsin is “weak and ineffective” and was providing “zero support” for his candidacy anyway.
Trump also declared “the shackles have been taken off,” liberating him to “fight for America the way I want to.”
Trump called McCain “foul-mouthed” and accused him, with no evidence, of once begging for his support.
McCain of Arizona, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, pulled his endorsement of Trump following a Washington Post report on Friday about a 2005 video in which Trump makes vulgar comments about forcing himself on women sexually.
In perhaps the most piercing insult, Trump said his party is harder to deal with than Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, whom conservatives loathe.
“Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary,” he wrote to his more than 12 million followers on Twitter, his preferred platform for picking fights. “They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win — I will teach them!”
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By backing away from Trump, Ryan and his allies were hoping to insulate themselves and their majorities on Capitol Hill from the baggage weighing down the nominee’s flagging campaign. For many, the breaking point was the 2005 video.
But they are suddenly dealing with another problem: an impulsive and bellicose billionaire with an army of loyal supporters willing to exact retribution against elected officials they feel have abandoned them.
The rift could have profound ramifications for the Republican Party, shattering any sense of unity and jeopardizing its chances of holding onto the Senate and, potentially, the House.
Mica Mosbacher, a Trump fundraiser and surrogate, said she was invited to a fundraiser next week for Ryan’s joint fundraising committee but is not going to attend or contribute because of the way Ryan has treated Trump.
“I don’t feel that Ryan is supporting our nominee and being a team player,” said Mosbacher, who is vowing not to give financial backing to Republicans who have crossed Trump.
Diana Orrock, a Republican National Committeewoman from Nevada, also said she is not voting for Republicans who pulled their support.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said Trump should “use the enormous power of social media” to put pressure on wavering Republicans.
“It’s time for him to send targeted messages to each district and state and have Republican voters ask their candidates: ‘Are you going to help us defeat Hillary Clinton?’ “
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Still, Trump’s barbs left some backers unsettled, including Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has been a Trump booster lately.
“Dr. Carson has been unwavering in his support but the last 24 hours have made that support very difficult to maintain,” Carson adviser Armstrong Williams said in a statement.
Carson said in a brief interview that Trump “would be wise to praise Ryan rather than be at war with him. I keep trying to emphasize to him that the issues are where you win.”
Ryan said Monday he would no longer defend or campaign with Trump. Dozens of other Republican officials have gone further, calling on Trump to leave the race.
“Paul Ryan is focusing the next month on defeating Democrats, and all Republicans running for office should probably do the same,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said, responding to Trump’s attacks.
Democrats continued their fierce criticism of Trump’s lewd comments. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama found the 2005 video “repugnant” and that “there has been a pretty clear statement by people all along the ideological spectrum that those statements constituted sexual assault.”