GOP leaders rebuke Trump

GOP leaders rebuke Trump
© Greg Nash

The top two Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday denounced Donald TrumpDonald TrumpShould government 'outsource' censorship to Facebook and Twitter? Sanders: FBI's investigation of wife won’t be a ‘distraction’ Schiff: Obama's delayed response to Russian interference 'a very serious mistake' MORE’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States in a remarkable rebuke of the party’s presidential front-runner.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanWhy Mariel Cuban criminals deserve amnesty (and Anti-Castro Republicans should support it) GOP agrees on one thing: ObamaCare taxes must go Ryan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSasse has 'nothing to announce' on GOP ObamaCare repeal Price: 'No guarantees' people won't fall through cracks of healthcare bill Senate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill MORE (R-Ky.) collectively ripped the plan as unconstitutional, putting on stark display the rupture between the Republican establishment and Trump.

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The fierce blowback from the GOP leaders was echoed by many rank-and-file Republican lawmakers — and did not go unnoticed.

Trump’s Twitter account favorably noted a poll finding 68 percent of his supporters would back him if he runs as a third party candidate — a nightmare scenario for Republicans that could doom GOP hopes to win back the White House.

The pushback from McConnell and Ryan was notable even given the widespread GOP outcry against Trump’s proposal.

Ryan, the new Speaker who was the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the 2016 race. He’s typically steered clear of campaign controversies, though he rejected Trump’s plan to round up illegal immigrants and deport them, saying in a “60 Minutes” interview last month that he couldn’t imagine it would be possible.

Ryan’s criticism of Trump’s Muslim plan was met by applause during a closed-door House Republican meeting Tuesday morning.

Moments later, in the lobby the Republican National Committee headquarters, Ryan stepped before a bank of TV cameras to argue that barring Muslims would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

“Normally I do not comment about what’s going on in the presidential election. I will take an exception today,” said Ryan, flanked by his leadership team. “This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly it’s not what this country stands for.”

Hours later, McConnell, who is supporting Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) presidential bid, called the proposed ban “completely and totally inconsistent with American values.”

He noted that it would prevent U.S. allies such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II from entering the United States.

While both Ryan and McConnell said they would still back Trump if he emerges as the party’s nominee next year, their comments sent a message about the GOP’s anger over Trump’s comments as well as its angst over his popularity.

If Trump is the GOP nominee, strategists and lawmakers fret it could severely hurt down-ballot Republicans running for the House and Senate.

“He’s hurting the Republican brand as a whole,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, who held top communications jobs at the Republican National Committee and on Capitol Hill. “And if you’re a senator in a purple state and you have a tough reelection fight in 2016, these things don’t help you.

Democrats hoping to win back the Senate next year see Trump as a gift and hope his rhetoric will tar whoever is the GOP nominee. Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats in 2016, many of them in states carried by President Obama.

“The damage Trump is causing helps Hillary Clinton and Democrats across the country,” Heye said.

Vulnerable Senate Republicans were on defense Tuesday as reporters hounded them about Trump’s latest proposal.

“I don’t think there should be a religious-based test for our immigration standards,” said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteOPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors Week ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington MORE (R-N.H.), adding that there are “a lot of presidential candidates in this race. So I’m not going to spend my time with what they’re doing.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, another Republican running for reelection in a blue presidential state, took to Twitter to chastise the man leading GOP presidential polls: “Trump is wrong. We should not have a religious test for admission to U.S. We should have a security test, and it should be bullet proof.”

Across the Capitol, one vulnerable House Republican made it absolutely clear he wanted no part of Trump’s plan, dismissing the front-runner as a “complete fraud.”

“I just view it as an opportunity to reject that kind of talk, reject Trump and everything he represents. He should have dropped out of the race a long time ago,” freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who has endorsed Jeb Bush for president, told The Hill. “It’s very clear that he’s a complete fraud, and he would be very dangerous for this country.

“People should stop waiting for him to cross the line” and reject him now, Curbelo added.

Rep. David Jolly, a fellow Florida Republican, took the House floor Tuesday and called for Trump to drop out of the race.

“It is time that my side of the aisle has one less candidate in the race for the White House. It is time for Donald Trump to withdraw from the race,” said Jolly, another Bush backer. Jolly is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, who is also seeking the GOP nomination.

Other Republicans distanced themselves from Trump but stopped short of demanding he leave the presidential campaign.

Asked by The Hill if Trump should withdraw, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) replied, “No. But he’s nuts.”

Conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said religion should never serve as a “litmus test” — he himself is a descendent of Mayflower passenger William Brewster, who fled religious persecution in England. But Meadows added: “The American people are the ultimate jury on what’s qualifying or disqualifying.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) called the exclusion of Muslims a “frightening” and “crazy idea” that “emboldens the enemy.” Still, he wants to see the “marketplace called politics” play out in 2016.

“I don’t think there is any party boss anywhere who should try to regulate the rhetoric of a candidate,” Cramer told The Hill.

Jonathan Easley contributed to this report.