The Republican National Committee (RNC) is standing fully behind Donald Trump, chairman Reince Priebus said Monday in a private conference call.
Speaking to the 168 members of the RNC, Priebus sought to squash rumors that the national party would cut the nominee loose to focus on protecting GOP majorities in the House and Senate, according to sources on the call.
Trump is running a bare-bones campaign that is overly reliant on staff from the RNC, and a reallocation of resources to down-ballot races would effectively doom his campaign.
Down-ballot Republicans have begun signaling they’ll be run parallel campaigns that are untethered from the GOP nominee, leaving the party in a perilous position less than a month before Election Day.
Priebus argued in the closed call that while he does not condone Trump’s vulgar comments about women, that the nominee apologized and the party stands with him, according to the source.
The GOP was thrust into turmoil by the Friday afternoon release of a video from 2005 where Trump was caught on a hot microphone talking about his celebrity allows him to do anything with women, including grabbing their genitalia.
The party spent the weekend stamping out rumors that it’s considering diverting resources away from Trump as his poll numbers plummet. And Trump supporters, led by Virginia GOP gubernatorial hopeful Corey Stewart, rallied at the RNC to call on the party to stand behind its nominee.
Stewart was later fired from his post as the head of Trump’s Virginia campaign operation.
There’s been limited polling since the release of the video, but a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday showed Clinton up 14 points in a head-to-head matchup. And it showed that 49 percent of voters wanted Democratic control of Congress, compared to 42 percent who wanted to see Republicans hold on.
If that margin grows much past 7 points, it could threaten what was once seen as the GOP’s certain control of the House, a House leadership source acknowledged to The Hill.
“The generic ballot trending away from us. If it gets to 10, very hard to win swing seats even with a superior campaign,” said the source.
The revelations have forced Republicans into a bind — staying with Trump could turn of swing voters angered by his comments from the video, but breaking with him would likely dampen turnout by the party’s base.
More than two-dozen lawmakers, including Senate GOP Conference Chair John Thune (S.D), have called on Trump to step aside. Vulnerable senators like Rob Portman (Ohio), John McCain (Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) have withdrawn their support, but others in tight races — including Pat Toomey (Penn.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Richard Burr (N.C.) — are staying the course.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told his caucus on a Monday morning conference call that he would no longer defend Trump and would solely focus on maintaining the House majority to ensureHillary Clinton does not have a “blank check” if elected. While he told lawmakers he was not rescinding his endorsement of Trump, he gave them the green-light to do so if needed.
“You all need to do what’s best for you in your district,” Ryan said, according to a source on the call.
But Trump has been resolute, proclaiming he would never quit and attacking Ryan in a tweet soon after that statement.
Ryan’s remarks have angered some RNC members, who say the Speaker is actively working against them.
“I would prefer that he keep his mouth shut,” said Steven Scheffler, a RNC committeeman from Iowa. “If you don’t want to work with Trump, then don’t. I understand he has a job to do, but I’m tired of him or anyone else making a point of saying this. Do they want to give the election to Clinton?”
Trump has signaled a scorched-Earth approach for the remaining weeks of the campaign, typified by his description of his comments as simply “locker-room talk” and his decision to bring three women who have accused President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or assault to Sunday’s debate.
Priebus and other RNC members say Trump has apologized and put the controversy behind him.
“In the end, I will not condemn or abandon a man that has every right to forgiveness as I do,” Robert Graham, an executive board member of the RNC and the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party said in a statement.
“It is my responsibility, as a member of the Republican National Committee, to elect our Republican nominees and defend our country against all enemies,” Graham said. “Hillary Clinton is an enemy to our nation’s security, general welfare and blessings of liberty. I will continue to work with passion, integrity and restlessness to stop Hillary Clinton and elect Donald J. Trump.”