GOP leaders advise members to proceed with caution on Trump

GOP leaders advise members to proceed with caution on Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.) is advising Republican senators to use their own game plans to deal with a possible collapse of GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE’s campaign.

McConnell is telling vulnerable GOP senators to focus on their own states and races and avoid getting swept up in the controversy swirling around Trump, GOP sources say.

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“We’re advising the same thing we have all along. Run your own race. That has put us in the good position that we’re in overall. Everybody is listening to people in their state,” said a Senate GOP aide.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll on Monday showed Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Kanye West 'not denying' his campaign seeks to damage Biden MORE opening up an 11-point lead on Trump.

Such an advantage could make it difficult for a Republican senator running on the ticket below Trump to win.

The GOP aide said internal polling was not available as of Monday morning to give leadership or candidates a sense of how much damage Trump’s lewd comments about women, caught on tape 11 years ago and released Friday, will have on individual races.

Still, the NBC poll showing a generic Republican running 7 points behind a generic Democrat was enough to spook Republicans in both chambers.

McConnell, who faces a demotion to Senate minority leader if the GOP gets shellacked next month, refused to discuss Trump at a local chamber of commerce lunch in Danville, Ky., Monday, telling the audience, “I don’t have any observations to make about it.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey Democratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' MORE (R-Wis.) is giving members of his conference space to make their own decisions as well.

But he has also made his displeasure with Trump clear by withdrawing an invitation for the nominee to attend a fall festival in Wisconsin and telling the entire House Republican Conference in a group call Monday that he would no longer defend him.

Trump has repeatedly put the two GOP leaders in a tough spot.

Neither wants to completely break with Trump, as some GOP members of Congress are seeking votes from Trump’s supporters.

Other Republicans, such as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanPessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier MORE in Ohio and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line Bottom line Bottom Line MORE in New Hampshire, broke with Trump after the release of the 2005 recording.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House MORE (R-S.D.) on Saturday called on Trump to drop out, the only member of the GOP leadership to do so. 

Senate GOP sources say McConnell doesn’t want to create problems for his Senate colleagues, who are either split or undecided over whether to withdraw their support from Trump.

House Republican strategists fear Trump’s disastrous performance in recent weeks has put the House in danger of flipping to the Democrats, who need a net gain of 30 seats, which political handicappers view as unlikely.

“The generic ballot [is] trending away from us. If it gets to 10, very hard to win swing seats even with a superior campaign,” said a House leadership source.

Still, the NBC poll shows movement.

It found that 49 percent of voters favor a Democrat-controlled Congress while 42 percent want the GOP in charge, a 7-point advantage for Democrats on the so-called generic ballot question. Democrats had only a 3-point advantage in mid September.

Republicans are more worried about Trump costing them control of the Senate, where the party is defending 24 seats to the Democrats’ 10. If Democrats pick up four seats and Clinton wins the White House, Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPostal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period A three-trillion dollar stimulus, but Chuck Schumer for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (D-N.Y.) would be majority leader next year.

Ryan and McConnell may also handle Trump differently, because while McConnell is solely focused on keeping his majority intact, Ryan is also looking at a possible presidential bid in 2020 if Clinton wins.

Trump has become so radioactive with college-educate white voters and women within the Republican Party that standing with him too closely is a potential political liability down the road. 

Democrats have pounced on the damning recording to inflict maximum damage on Senate and House candidates.  

“What will it take for Republicans to walk away from Trump?” Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill MORE (Nev.) asked. “What is it going to take for Republicans to discover even the barest modicum of decency and respect?”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told CNN Sunday night that "there's not a dime's worth of difference" between Trump and congressional Republicans when it comes to policy and tolerating intolerance.

Some vulnerable Republicans have scrambled to put distance between themselves and Trump, but others recognize that a clear majority of voters at home still favor him over Clinton.

“Every state is different, every race is different. Some states have a majority of voters who still support Trump, some do not. Every member is making a decision based on what the people in their state want,” said a Senate GOP strategist.  

Ayotte, Portman and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Mark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Prominent conservatives question Jerry Falwell Jr. vacation photo MORE (R-Ariz.) said over the weekend they will not vote for Trump, as did Rep. Joe Heck (R), who is running for the open Senate seat in Nevada.

Vulnerable incumbent Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (R-Mo.) and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Hillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review MORE (R-N.C.) reiterated Monday that they will stick with Trump.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters MORE (R), who is fighting to save his political career in Florida, stopped short of calling on Trump to step aside in his initial statement condemning his remarks.

Rep. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRepublicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Senate GOP posts M quarter haul as candidates, Trump struggle A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government MORE (R-Ind.) said Saturday he’s not sure whether he’ll vote for Trump.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R), who is running for reelection in Pennsylvania, where Clinton is beating Trump by an average of nearly 9 points, has not endorsed Trump and was careful on Monday not to alienate his supporters.

He issued a statement that denounced Trump’s “indefensible and appalling comments” about women but also bashed his opponent, Democrat Katie McGinty, for not speaking out against Clinton’s “disastrous policies.” 

A snap CNN poll published Sunday evening showed that 57 percent of viewers though Clinton won the second presidential debate but also thought Trump exceeded expectations.

Trump’s bare-knuckled verbal assault on the debate stage Sunday, in which he accused his opponent of defending her husband’s “abusive" behavior toward women, ripped her handling of classified documents on a private email server and threatened to put her in jail if he’s elected, played to angry GOP voters who were itching to see Clinton confronted.

Christian evangelical leader Pat Robertson on Monday declared Trump the winner of that debate.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll published over the weekend found that 74 percent of Republicans want party leaders to stand by Trump.

The Senate GOP strategist argued that voters’ concerns over the economy — an issue on which Trump has consistently outpolled Clinton — will be more of a factor in battleground states.

Despite their misgivings about Trump’s personal values, they see him as more likely to bring an entrepreneurial spirit to Washington, which over the past eight years has presided over the slowest economic recovery since World War II.

“The question is who can fix the problems? It’s certainly not someone who’s been there for 30 years and hasn’t been successful in doing anything about it and arguably made it worse,” the strategist said, referring to Clinton’s 25-year tenure in national politics.

Some political observers warn that dumping Trump before the dust settles on Friday’s bombshell disclosure could backfire, especially if Republican voters think politicians are caving under heat from Democrats and the media.

“For the Republican base, Donald Trump delivered the attack against the Clinton machine that the Republican base and middle America have been waiting for for years now,” Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said Monday. “And so good luck being in Pensacola, Fla., saying, Hey, I’m off of Donald Trump,' or saying in Kansas, 'Oh, I’m not going to be for Donald Trump anymore.'”

His co-host, Mika Brzezinski, said Republicans would look “spineless” if they had to reverse their decision to withhold support upon realizing his support among Republican voters remains strong. 

Jordain Carney and Scott Wong contributed.