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Giving up on Trump? Not local GOP
The nation’s most powerful Republican told his party Monday he now is focusing on ensuring Hillary Clinton doesn’t get a blank check as president with a Democratic-controlled Congress, suggesting he doesn’t believe Donald Trump can win the election.
But York-area Republican politicians continue to stand by their support of Trump while expressing disgust at a 2005 video showing the nominee using lewd language about women.
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office quickly said he was not conceding the election’s outcome. But pro-Trump GOP House members got that impression, pushing back by saying Trump can still prevail and should not be abandoned. One outspoken conservative called Ryan and other Republican leaders “cowards.”
A person who was on Ryan’s conference call with GOP lawmakers said the speaker declared that he will “spend his entire energy making sure that Hillary Clinton does not get a blank check with a Democrat-controlled Congress.” The person wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name and demanded anonymity.
Ryan said he wouldn’t defend Trump or appear with the Republican presidential candidate for the rest of the campaign, according to lawmakers and Republican congressional staff, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The remarkable development came as Trump battled to rescue his campaign after the release last week of a 2005 video in which he is heard bragging about how his fame allowed him to “do anything” to women. Several leading Republicans have withdrawn their support or even called for him to drop out of the race.
Local reaction: York-area Republicans are mostly standing by Trump despite disavowing the words he was heard saying in the video.
State Sen. Scott Wagner, who recently said he supported Trump "250 percent," wrote in a statement that he was "offended and disgusted" by what he heard on the video.
"The words used, and the actions described, are indefensible," he wrote. "Donald Trump was correct to apologize and express remorse."
Trump apologized in a video posted on his Facebook page and has repeatedly referred to the comments as "locker-room talk."
Wagner recently hosted Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, at his Penn Waste recycling facility in Manchester Township, and the senator reaffirmed in his statement that he will be voting for Trump in November.
Shortly after the video was released, Pence said that he could not defend or condone his running mate's remarks, and he declined to appear on Trump's behalf at a party gathering in Wisconsin on Saturday.
Pence has since dismissed reports that he was ever considering leaving the ticket and urged Republicans to stand behind their candidate.
“I’m honored to be standing with him,” Pence said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, also reaffirmed his commitment to Trump in an email statement.
"Let me be clear: Donald Trump's comments 10 years ago were reprehensible and indefensible — period," he wrote. "My support's based solely on which candidate can best revive our economy and make our nation stronger and safer. That candidate is not Hillary Clinton."
Many local Republicans who have expressed support for Trump in the past, including Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township; Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; and Dawn Keefer, of Franklin Township, Republican candidate for the 92nd House seat, could not be reached for their reaction to the video.
Phillips-Hill serves on the Pennsylvania Women for Trump statewide leadership team.
Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, and GOP candidate Joel Sears, of Spring Garden Township, haven't outwardly expressed support for Trump and also couldn't be reached for comment.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has refused to endorse Trump thus far, and he tweeted late Friday that Trump's comments in the video were "outrageous and unacceptable."
"Cowards:" Several people on Monday's call said Ryan explicitly told House members, “You all need to do what’s best for you in your district.”
Ryan said he was “willing to endure political pressure to help protect our majority,” a person on the call said.
Ryan’s message appeared to signal his disbelief in Trump’s ability to turn the campaign around with four weeks until Election Day, though he didn’t actually revoke his endorsement. He said his decision was driven by what he thought was best for the Republican-led Congress, not himself, according to people on the call.
In the eyes of many Republican leaders, the recently released tape of a 2005 conversation in which Trump made vulgar, predatory comments about women not only jeopardized his own uphill candidacy but that of Republicans fighting to hold their majority in the Senate. Their commanding majority in the House could now be in peril, too.
Some conservatives expressed alarm with Ryan’s tone, according to those on the call.
California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher called Republican leaders “cowards,” one person on the call said.
Matthew Jansen, a Spring Grove school board member and staunch Trump supporter, said the decision by some Republicans to decry Trump is making him re-evaluate his support of them.
"His challenger is just a really bad candidate, it's no comparison," Jansen said. "It's unconscionable that Republicans would even consider weakening their candidate in any way."
Despite the lack of support by some GOP officials, Jansen said he would still vote along party lines because "even a weak Republican is better than any Democrat."
Debate: Jansen added that he was impressed with Trump's performance during Sunday night's debate against a "seasoned debater" like Hillary Clinton and what he described as unwarranted interruptions by moderators.
Wagner called the debate "a media circus."
"Unfortunately both candidates and their campaigns have completely resorted to gutter politics, and the media is fueling the fire," he wrote.
Questioned at Sunday’s debate about his vulgar remarks, Trump turned his fire on the Democrats. He accused Bill Clinton of having been “abusive to women” and said Hillary Clinton went after those women “viciously.” He declared the Democratic nominee had “tremendous hate in her heart” and should be in jail.
“Anything to avoid talking about your campaign and the way it’s exploding,” Clinton countered.
Trump’s intensely loyal supporters might well be energized by his vigorous criticism of Clinton. He labeled her “the devil” and promised she would “be in jail” if he were president because of her email practices at the State Department — a threat that drew widespread criticism.
Wagner appeared to express support for this sentiment, writing that "if an ordinary citizen would have committed 10 percent of the crimes that Hillary Clinton has committed, they would have been arrested, convicted and would be serving time in a federal prison."
Toomey, who's locked in a tight race with Democratic nominee Katie McGinty, wrote that the debate "showed the shortcomings of both presidential candidates."
Toomey wrote that he has repeatedly spoken out against Trump's "flawed policies" and "outrageous comments," but McGinty said Monday that Toomey lacks the courage and backbone of Republicans who have disavowed Trump.
"Katie McGinty has yet to say a single word against Hillary Clinton’s disastrous policies that have endangered our country, her widespread dishonesty, or the corruption of her behavior with the Clinton Foundation," Toomey wrote. "Pennsylvania deserves a senator who will cross party lines and provide independent leadership, not a rubber stamp for a very flawed president.”
— Staff reporter David Weissman contributed to this report.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.