The crisis in the Republican Party has deepened with Speaker Paul Ryan, the senior-most elected party official, telling lawmakers he will not defend Donald Trump, the party’s presidential nominee, or do campaign events with him.
Ryan will instead focus on ensuring the party's victory in races for the House of Representatives and the Senate, which are controlled by Republicans now but could — at least the Senate — slip away in the backlash to Trump's divisive campaign.
His announcement on Monday, taken in some quarters as an admission of defeat in the presidential race, couldn't have come at a worse time for Trump, who continues to struggle with the countrywide outrage sparked by a 2005 recording of him bragging about groping women and forcing himself on them.
In the first poll since the tape became public, Trump trailed his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by 11 points, which at this stage of the election process, with less than a month to polling on November 8, has been seen as unprecedented and potentially fatal for a presidential campaign.
The poll released on Monday by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, had Trump at 35% to Clinton's 46% in a four-way contest. Going head-to-head against Clinton, Trumps lagged by 14 points.
In the national average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, Trump trailed Clinton by 6.5 points, after narrowing it to a little more than 2 points on the eve of the first presidential debate. And FiveThirtyEight gave Trump only a 14% chance of winning, compared to 84% for Clinton.
Trump has been hit by a spate of desertions and rescinded endorsements in the aftermath of the tape, leaving him clearly angry and frustrated. He has threatened to mar the prospects of those among them running for re-election. And he admonished Ryan in a tweet, saying, "Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee."
But Trump seemed to evolve in the hours after that tweet, and said in another post on Tuesday morning he felt liberated. "It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to."
That might unnerve his campaign a bit as it has struggled to steer him away from self-goals brought on by his unshackled style of campaigning when he goes off-script and ad-libs an insult or remark that then hounds him for days.
In good news for Trump, the party was still with him. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told officials in an emergency conference call: "I want to make it very clear that the RNC is in full coordination with the Trump campaign, and we have a great relationship with them."