27 days before elections, GOP at war with itself

27 days before elections, GOP at war with itself
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The Republican Party has become consumed with infighting less than a month before Election Day, creating an unprecedented political crisis that has cast party members into despair and ignited fears of a wave election for Democrats.

New polls show Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE trailing Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Nadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting Kellyanne Conway: Mueller didn't need to use the word 'exoneration' in report MORE badly in the race for the White House.

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Republicans fear that if their nominee completely melts down, the reverberations could doom their majorities in Congress.

GOP candidates in battleground states have already begun running their campaigns separate from Trump and are urging voters to ensure there are Republicans around to act as a check on Clinton’s power in the White House. House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) on Monday told his caucus that he’s done defending Trump and has instructed members to do whatever they need to win reelection.

Ryan’s actions have angered Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill, and the Speaker is under fire from his own conference and some Republican National Committee (RNC) members for effectively abandoning the nominee.

And Trump, who has suffered a wave of high-profile Republican defections after a video was released of him making obscene sexual remarks, is furious over the GOP skittishness.

The combustible nominee and his allies are lashing out at Ryan and vowing to run against any Republican who does not hold the line.

The drama has down-ballot Republicans in an impossible spot.

Many have rebuked Trump or called for him to drop out. But Democrats are tying them to the GOP nominee anyway, and some need the energy Trump creates among grassroots conservatives to win their own races.

The RNC is trapped in the wreckage, with Chairman Reince Priebus, a close friend of Ryan’s and a fellow Wisconsinite, resigned to backing Trump to the bitter end.

It’s a chaotic scene that has top Republicans fretting over an Election Day bloodbath. 

“I never thought the House could be in play, but I keep hearing that if the presidential candidate is down by 10 points or more that becomes possible,” said one GOP state party chairman from a blue state. “That seemed unthinkable a year ago.”

Trump on Tuesday declared that he would throw off his “shackles” and run the final month of his campaign in open warfare with Ryan and the GOP leaders and candidates who have abandoned him.

Trump ripped Ryan as a “weak and ineffective leader.” He attacked “foul mouthed” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEarth Day founder's daughter: Most Republican leaders believe in climate change in private Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders MORE (R-Ariz.), who is in a tight race for reelection to his Senate seat, and blasted party leaders for their “disloyalty.”

Shell-shocked Republicans in battleground states are scrambling to get the GOP nominee to drop the feud and get back on message.

“I spoke to Mr. Trump about it yesterday and will again today,” Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges told The Hill. “We are in a different phase of the campaign now. He needs to knock it off.”

Even some of Trump’s staunchest allies have given up on defending his actions.

Ben Carson, a top adviser to Trump, came to Ryan’s defense and said he was baffled by the GOP nominee’s inability to stay on message.

“Trump should concentrate on the issues and stop allowing himself to be dragged off into the hinterlands,” Carson told The Hill. “Let Paul Ryan concentrate on the House. It’s critical; you need that fail-safe mechanism."

But Trump has legions of supporters within the party who are upset with Ryan and the Republicans they say are wilting in the face of adversity and handing the White House to Clinton.

“I have expressed great disappointment in any of the Republican leadership for backing away from supporting the top of the Republican ticket,” Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “It not only dramatically damages every person running down ballot, it potentially vitiates the whole reason that we came to office as Republicans in the first place. Namely, protecting the Constitution.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Trump has found a staunch ally in Priebus, who held an emergency conference call on Monday night to ensure the national party’s 168-member body that he would not cut Trump loose.

Trump is running a bare-bones campaign that relies heavily on staff from the RNC. If the national party were to abandon Trump, it would effectively doom his campaign.

The Hill spoke to a half-dozen RNC members from across the nation, and most are fuming that they’re still in the position of having to defend Trump against GOP attacks.

“I’m disgusted,” said Paul Reynolds, a Republican National Committeeman from Alabama. “The emails I’ve been getting this morning about our fundraising efforts are from Republicans saying they won’t give another penny to the GOP until we get rid of those who are making these statements against our candidate.”

Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell from Virginia called it “damaging and destructive for Republican leaders not to support our nominee.”

“It’s dangerous foolishness,” Blackwell said. “It’s going to be counterproductive and destructive. Remember, enormous numbers of Republicans went out of their way to attack Nixon in 1974, and it sent Republicans to crushing defeat. It doesn’t help to disunite the party in this way.”

Priebus’s loyalty to Trump has made him a hero in some quarters and a pariah among those who believe the RNC should have prevented Trump from taking over the party in the first place.

“If the RNC had managed the primary correctly, we never would have been here,” said one well-connected Republican.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey released on Tuesday found Trump trailing Clinton by 10 points in a head-to-head matchup, the second poll released this week to find Clinton leading by double digits.

Emboldened Democrats are openly talking about expanding the map and going after seats that once looked out of reach. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a poll finding that a generic Democratic candidate has a double-digit lead over a generic Republican, regardless of whether the GOP candidate is endorsing Trump or not.

“We need wholesale changes or we’re never going to win,” said one GOP strategist working on a Senate race in a battleground state. “We should have been able to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Republicans are at a loss as to how to turn things around and are already looking beyond the elections to picking up the pieces.

“The divide between elected officials that wear the Republican name and the rank-and-file conservative on the ground is really bad,” said Reynolds. “Really, really bad.”

Cristina Marcos and Scott Wong contributed.

Updated at 8:02 p.m.