Donald Trump appears perfectly willing to go down swinging as he plummets in the polls, lashing out at his own party’s leadership nearly as vehemently as he has gone after “crooked” Hillary Clinton.
For months his differences with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) simmered, as Ryan’s initial Hamlet-like deliberations over whether to fully embrace the bombastic billionaire eventually led to a highly public break last week, in the wake of the release the 2005 Access Hollywood videotape showing Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women. Since then, a bitter and scornful Trump has relentlessly attacked Ryan on Twitter and during campaign appearances, denouncing the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee as a “weak” and “failed” politician who may be trying to bring Trump down in order to run for president himself four years from now.
“It’s incredible. Honestly, the leadership of the Republican Party has been very, very – it’s been a very sad situation,” Trump said during a recent interview with conservative radio host Mike Gallagher, later adding that “there’s a whole sinister deal going on.”
With GOP party unity in shambles amid worries that Trump’s slash-and-burn rhetoric will jeopardize Republican control of the House and Senate, Ryan has largely maintained a public silence on Trump. Privately, he has told members of the House GOP conference that he can no longer support or defend Trump and urged them to concentrate on hanging onto their seats.
A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday just hours before the third and final presidential debate in Las Vegas shows that Trump is having an adverse effect on Ryan’s standing within his own party. If this keeps up, the Wisconsin Republican could well face a tough challenge from the far right when – and if – he seeks another term as House Speaker after the Nov. 8 election.
Among the more troubling findings for Ryan is that only 35 percent of Republican voters nationally have a favorable view of him, down 10 points since March. What’s more, about three-quarters of GOP voters complain that the GOP leadership hasn’t done enough to support Trump. A startling 37 percent say Ryan should be replaced as speaker in January, while 44 percent say he should continue on. Among Trump supporters, 44 percent say they want to see Ryan replaced.
By contrast, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has seen her approval rating improve since March. More than half of the Democrats surveyed said they want her to stay on as Democratic leader next year.
This could spell bad news for Ryan, who has spent months drafting and promoting a new House GOP agenda for the coming year that he hopes will signal a new policy direction for his party. He has offered detailed plans for reforming the tax code, overhauling welfare legislation and controlling the long-term debt. But much will depend on whether he can win the support of arch conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, many of whom are staunch supporters of Trump and don’t understand Ryan’s decision to remain neutral in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Ryan succeeded Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as speaker in late October 2015, after Boehner was forced into an early retirement by conservative GOP forces who differed greatly on policy and spending issues. A Trump-inspired revolt against Ryan potentially could cut short his career as the highest elected Republican in the country.
Trump this week has lashed out even more at establishment Republican lawmakers by calling for constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms a person could serve in Congress. “The time for congressional term limits has finally arrived,” Trump said at a rally in Colorado Springs. “Not only will it end our government corruption, but we will end the economic stagnation that we are in right now.”
According to the new poll, there is even greater Republican opposition and resentment towards Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) than Ryan – and McConnell has endorsed Trump, although he hasn’t actively campaigned for him.