Fear permeates the House and Senate conferences on Capitol Hill. Like teenagers freaked out by a faux clown posse on social media, congressional Republicans fret about Donald Trump – and it’s why House Republicans will hold a conference call Monday morning to discuss what to do about their presidential nominee.
The weekend teemed with disavowals, condemnations and outright revulsion directed at Trump from dozens of congressional Republicans. And frankly, those lawmakers are crippled about what to do.
Many congressional Republicans fear what Trump’s remarks about women mean for GOP candidates in races down the ballot. They want answers about the redirection of resources to House and Senate candidates in an effort to mitigate the Trump malignancy. They’ll talk about whether they should bolt from Trump – or if they can inhabit some tenable middle ground.
They’ll consider whether Trump managed to stabilize the ship, and may even chatter about utterly quixotic scenarios to try to force Trump off the ballot or electors to cast ballots for someone other than Trump in the Electoral College.
There may even be a discussion about assembling a coterie of senior Republicans to inform Trump it’s time to go.
Rank-and-file Republicans are looking to House Speaker Paul Ryan for leadership in this pickle. Fox News has been told Ryan’s pondered yanking his endorsement of Trump.
It’s always been an enigmatic relationship between Trump and Ryan.
In the spring after meeting with Trump, the best thing Ryan could say about the nominee was that they shared a mutual goal of defeating Hillary Clinton. Ryan then waited weeks to formally endorse Trump. The Wisconsin Republican argued he wasn’t yet comfortable with Trump – reflecting the views of many House Republicans.
“It’s very important that we don’t fake unifying. That we don’t pretend unification. That we truly unify so we are at full strength in the fall. I don’t want us to have a fake unification process here,” Ryan said at the time.
And finally, Ryan endorsed Trump. And then many Republicans grudgingly went along with Trump.
The effort was forced at best.
Did the GOP “truly unify?” Some observers argue those decisions were callow and made out of political expediency. Republican lawmakers knew they couldn’t oppose the Trump juggernaut in their states or districts. Go along to get along. Certainly some Republicans stood foursquare behind Trump. Others did so with gritted teeth. But Ryan’s decision to endorse Trump granted reluctant Republicans air cover to tacitly support the nominee.
There is a problem for Congressional Republicans slicing ties with Trump. Trump energized the GOP base. Republicans count on these voters at the polls. Many Trump loyalists serve as their volunteers. Ditching these voters could spell disaster.
“It is a real conundrum,” said one senior House Republican.
Ryan’s annual political “Fall Fest” in Elkhorn, Wis., Saturday delineates the challenge. Ryan jettisoned Trump from the rally after the Access Hollywood tape emerged Friday.
Still, one source defended how Ryan handled all of this.
“(Ryan) disinvited the party nominee for that rally,” praised one GOP lawmaker. “That takes some guts.”
But Trump partisans saw it differently, hectoring Ryan and other Republicans at the rally.
“Shame!” thundered protesters at Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the dean of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation.
“Clean up your act!” admonished Sensenbrenner at the hecklers.
Sensenbrenner proceeded to tell the crowd that people attend the Fall Fest each year to thank Ryan.
“Not no more!” rejoined one protester.
This crystallizes the chasm between congressional Republicans and Trump supporters. There isn’t even “fake unification.” This is the divide which concerns GOPers on Capitol Hill. They worry that the most ardent of Trump supporters will vote in November – but more “conventional” Republicans won’t. That could cost them control of the Senate, and, after Friday’s turn of events, potentially put the House in play.
“This is going to have to bake about a week,” said one Republican lawmaker deeply involved in Congressional reelection efforts.
This might turn into a free-for-all where everyone is scrambling to protect themselves.
Republicans closely watched the maneuvers of Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence this weekend. A former top House GOP figure, Pence lent credibility to Trump’s campaign when he joined the ticket. Many Congressional conservatives were only willing to go along with Trump because they trust Pence. There was conjecture Sunday night that Trump’s actions deeply disturbed Pence and he could bolt from the ticket. Such a gambit would trigger an exodus among Congressional Republicans.
During the debate, Trump even called out Pence. But afterwards, Pence took to Twitter to characterize Trump’s performance as “a big debate win.” Pence added he was “proud to stand” with the nominee.