Harry Reid: McConnell and Ryan's 'moral cowardice' enabled Trump's rise

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidFive takeaways from New Hampshire Senate debate Democrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Senate Democratic super PAC sets fundraising record MORE (Nev.) on Thursday called on Republican leaders in Congress to renounce Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from New Hampshire Senate debate Trump losing cash race in final weeks Vulnerable GOP senator questions opponent's American heritage MORE because of his controversial views, saying their "moral cowardice" led to the GOP presidential front-runner's rise.

Reid compared Trump’s rise in national politics to a brush fire and he blamed the obstructionist policies of GOP leaders in Congress for creating just the right conditions for the billionaire's rhetoric to resonate.

“Republican leaders created the drought conditions, Donald Trump has simply struck the match,” Reid said in a speech delivered to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal advocacy group.

He said he and many other observers have been appalled and mystified by the tone set by Trump in the GOP primary.

The real estate mogul kicked off his campaign last summer by claiming that many illegal immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists. He has also proposed banning Muslims temporarily from entering the country and has called for using torture to interrogate suspected terrorists.

He has also used language widely criticized as demeaning to women, such as quip that President Obama “schlonged” Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from New Hampshire Senate debate Trump losing cash race in final weeks Report: Biden on top of Clinton's short list for secretary of State MORE in the 2008 Democratic primary and implying that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was menstruating during first GOP presidential debate when she asked him tough questions.

Reid on Thursday accused Trump of making “disgusting, sexist statements” and insulting veterans and immigrants, a reference to the billionaire questioning Sen. John McCainJohn McCainYes, let’s set politics aside on sage grouse conservation Democrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Obama's right to tackle redistricting, but it won't be easy MORE’s (R-Ariz.) credentials as a war hero and his disparagement of Mexican immigrants.

He called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Senate Democratic super PAC sets fundraising record Five takeaways from Florida Senate debate MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress NRCC ad touts GOP rep for bucking Trump MORE (R-Wis.) to put a stop to the downward spiral by renouncing Trump.

“Their leaders should withdraw their support of Donald Trump and do it now. For too long, Sen. McConnell and Speaker Ryan have tried to have it both ways, giving Trump occasionally a slap on the wrist each time he says something detestable but always committing to support him at the end of the day,” Reid said. “This is precisely the kind of moral cowardice that enabled the rise of Trump.”

Republicans on Thursday waved off Reid’s criticism as routine partisan mudslinging.

“Par for the course from Harry Reid whose time in the Senate is littered with petty insults, over-the-top barbs and a  serious problem with the facts,” said a GOP aide, who cited a litany of the Democratic leader's past digs at former President George W. Bush and sweaty tourists.

“Going after President Bush’s wife, making inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance and calling those who visit the Capitol smelly is all in a day’s work for Sen. Reid,” the aide added.

But Reid argued that Trump has watched Republican leaders over the past seven years of Obama’s presidency condone extreme positions in opposition his leadership, ranging from their reflexive opposition to healthcare reform and economic stimulus legislation to Mitt Romney’s call for illegal immigrants to deport themselves and the 2013 government shutdown.

“All the time Donald Trump was watching, watching. He saw rampant extremism condoned by Republican leaders who were either too cowardly or too powerless to do anything about it,” Reid said. “The Republican Party has become without question the party of Trump.”

Reid said GOP leaders further encouraged Trump by not calling him out in 2011 for prominently questioning whether Obama was born in the United States and eligible to serve in the Oval Office.

“After years of refusing to renounce birtherism, McConnell and Ryan are now supporting the most prominent birther in the nation,” he said. “Why are they waiting to withdraw their support. What more do they need to see?”

- Updated at 5:16 p.m.