Trump escalates fight with GOP leaders as party unity frays

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listen during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listen during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of Twitter attacks Tuesday on the party he hopes to lead to the White House, threatening to plunge Republicans into an all-out conflict with just four weeks remaining until Election Day.

Declaring himself unshackled, the billionaire businessman went after House Speaker Paul Ryan after the congressional leader effectively abandoned Trump in a private call with fellow Republicans. The series of Twitter posts appeared designed to stem the flow of GOP lawmakers who’ve said they won’t vote for Trump or have urged him to exit the race since last week’s release of a tape showing him using predatory language regarding women.

Disloyal Republicans “are far more difficult” than Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump lamented.

“They come at you from all sides,” he tweeted. “They don’t know how to win — I will teach them!”

According to people on Monday’s telephone conference call, Ryan said he would no longer campaign with Trump, focusing instead on ensuring Clinton doesn’t get a “blank check” with a Democratic-controlled Congress. Ryan received both support and criticism from House members, reflecting Republicans’ disunity and the disarray of their election strategy with less than a month to go.

Assailing Ryan, Trump said Tuesday that members “went wild” at the disloyalty of the “very weak and ineffective” speaker.

“It is hard to do well when Paul Ryan and others give zero support!” Trump tweeted, declaring inaccurately that every poll had him winning the weekend’s second presidential debate against Clinton.

One tweet complained that Democrats are “far more loyal to each other than the Republicans!” Another was celebratory: “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.”

Trump also blasted Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican standard-bearer and another critic.

While Trump’s candidacy has long exposed the party’s divisions, GOP leaders had hoped to prevent an all-out civil war until after the election. But House and Senate candidates fear Trump’s 2005 comments about women will drag down their own electoral prospects, if not stain the Republican brand for a generation. Others see no way for Republicans in some races to win without the backing of Trump’s loyal supporters.

Brendan Buck, Ryan’s spokesman, offered a muted response to Trump.

Ryan is “focusing the next month on defeating Democrats and all Republicans running for office should probably do the same,” he said.

Forty Republican senators and congressmen have revoked their support for Trump — with nearly 30 of them urging him to quit the race altogether. Few of these were ever passionate Trump supporters, and Republicans in Congress number 300 in all. The head of the Republican National Committee has stuck by the GOP nominee, citing full coordination with Trump’s embattled campaign.

Trump apologized during Sunday’s debate but also dismissed his comments about groping women without their permission as merely “locker room talk.” The explanation failed to end the controversy, and Trump’s attacks on Ryan Tuesday threatened to distract from what Republicans want to be his main message: Going after Clinton.

The Democratic nominee, for her part, touted new ideas Tuesday to provide tax relief for families with young children. Her plan would double the Child Tax Credit and provide low-income families more money in refunds.

The “new tax credit will make their lives a little bit easier and help restore fairness to our economy,” Clinton said before a scheduled event with former Vice President Al Gore in Florida, the state that cost him the 2000 election. They’re expected to discuss climate change concerns.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s campaign is grappling with newly leaked emails shedding more light on the interplay among the former secretary of state’s family, her husband’s business relationships and her presidential ambitions.

The emails posted by WikiLeaks detail concern about former Bill Clinton aide Doug Band and the private corporate advisory firm he co-founded.

Daughter Chelsea Clinton in 2011 forwarded a news article about money Bill Clinton was receiving through Band’s company and expressed alarm with its representatives calling British parliamentarians “on behalf of President Clinton” without her father’s knowledge. Band tells John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, that Chelsea “is acting like a spoiled brat kid” because she hasn’t found her way in life.

WikiLeaks says the messages come from Podesta’s accounts. Podesta has said messages may have been altered or edited to damage Clinton. It isn’t clear who hacked Podesta’s emails. Last week, U.S. intelligence officials blamed Russia’s government for breaches and leaks intended to influence the presidential election.

Ryan’s goal over the next month is preventing Republicans from losing House control, a scenario that seemed remote just a week ago. They hold a wide 246-186 seat majority.

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