WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan told his Republican House members on Monday that he will focus on defending the Republican House majority, not Donald Trump, for the rest of the campaign, according to Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
In a conference call the speaker scheduled after Trump’s crude sexual remarks in a 2005 video became public on Friday, Ryan told congressional Republicans that he won’t defend Trump now or in the future, according to The Associated Press and other news reports.
“Paul Ryan said he was not withdrawing his endorsement of Donald Trump and he would be campaigning with House candidates to make sure we have a majority,” said King, a backer of the Republican presidential nominee.
Ryan’s action did not sit well with some House Republicans or Trump.
“Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee,” Trump tweeted after news broke about the conference call.
Ryan’s disclosure of his focus on the House came a day after Trump appeared to have steadied his campaign in the Town Hall debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton on Sunday night in St. Louis — despite several Republican defections on Saturday.
Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, who on Saturday stopped campaigning and rebuked Trump for the vulgar remarks, reaffirmed his support on Monday morning news shows, praising Trump’s debate performance and saying he is “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.”
“Last night, he showed his heart to the American people, and then he moved on to the real choice in this election,” Pence, the governor of Indiana, said on CNN. “It’s not just the choice between two people, but a choice between two futures.”
Pence also backed up Trump’s attacks on both Hillary and Bill Clinton. Of Trump’s crude words, he said “very clearly that was talk, not actions. And I believe him.” But he recalled “the avalanche of scandals of despicable behavior” by the Clintons 20 years ago.
On the morning after one of the harshest and most graphic presidential debates in memory, Joe Scarborough, host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, articulated a view that most morning show anchors also expressed: “He saved his campaign to fight another day.”
King said Trump dominated the debate and often put Clinton on the defensive. Clinton supporters said she held her own against a withering attack.
A CNN poll of debate-watchers, which included a slightly higher share of Democrats, found 67 percent said Clinton won the debate, but 63 percent said Trump had surpassed their expectations for his performance.
Unlike the last debate, Trump did not call into any morning news shows on Monday. He and Clinton left the spinning of the outcome of the Town Hall at Washington University to their surrogates.
Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also did not appear on any Monday morning talk shows.
“Hillary came to this debate to talk about the issues,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said on NBC. “Donald Trump came to try to rescue his spiraling campaign.”
Citing Trump’s description of his comments about women taped a decade ago as “locker room talk,” Mook said, “Unfortunately he doubled down on his nonapology for what he said.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, appearing on CBS said, “We’re just so pleased with Mr. Trump and the debate last night. It was a masterful performance. He took it to Hillary.”
Conway defended Trump’s apology. “He said, ‘I was embarrassed. I apologized,’ ” she said. “Then he talked about the difference between words and actions.”
In his rounds of the morning news shows, Pence denied he ever considered quitting the ticket after he issued a stern rebuke to Trump and took a break from campaigning on Saturday as many Republican lawmakers withdrew support for Trump and urged him to step down.
Pence said he’s willing to give Trump a second chance after he showed appropriate remorse and issued an apology during the debate. “I believe in redemption, I believe in second chances,” he said on MSNBC.
Pence also blamed a faulty question by moderator Martha Raddatz, which he said led Trump to say he disagreed with Pence’s position on humanitarian aid in Aleppo in war-torn Syria, and added that he did not mind that Trump said they hadn’t discussed it.
Democrats also raised alarms about Trump’s declaration at the debate that if he’s elected president he will instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton for her emails, and said he’d put her in jail.
“I would say it’s chilling that Donald Trump thinks the presidency is like some banana republic dictatorship where you can lock up your political opponents,” Mook said on “CBS This Morning.” “The career staff at the Justice Department, and again, this is just Donald Trump trying to intimidate Hillary, bully Hillary, and change the debate from anything but himself. I think he should apologize.”
Conway dismissed that characterization.
“That was a quip,” she said, after “she made a snide comment to him.”
Conway added his call for a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton was “channeling” the frustrations of many voters who wonder “how can she not have faced any penalty” for her use of a private email server and the destruction of 33,000 emails.
Trump brought three women who accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them years ago to the debate, and charged that Hillary Clinton attacked and vilified them in defense of her husband.
Mook called that invitation “a stunt.” He added, “These accusations have been debunked. The fact-checkers have weighed in very clearly.”
King said he understood Ryan has his own priorities.
“Paul has to do what he has to do. In my own case, I’m still supporting Trump,” King said. “Paul is looking at 247 seats [now held by Republicans]. I’m looking at one.”
Yet King said it was up to Republicans who backed away from Trump to figure out what to do now after “overreacting” to the video and not realizing they need Trump supporters to win.
“I don’t think they should have done it. Nothing came out new over the weekend, shameful as it was,” King said. “Everyone knew that Donald had kind of a wild lifestyle.”