Republicans officially stand behind Trump as Paul Ryan backs away
Hillary Clinton continues to court moderate Republican voters who have turned away from Trump
Donald Trump shared the stage in Pennsylvania on Monday with what appeared to be a mini version of himself, complete with a dark suit, red tie and his distinctive blonde mane.
The Republican presidential nominee posed for photos with the young boy and urged his supporters to vote to "get rid of the Hillary Clintons of the world" but did not once mention his rift with Paul Ryan during two public events.
Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, took the extraordinary step on Monday of distancing himself from Trump, stirring a backlash from some lawmakers and deepening a crisis over his party's struggling presidential nominee.
Trump's only mention of the rift with Ryan was on Twitter.
Ryan told anxious fellow lawmakers on Monday he will not campaign for or defend the floundering businessman in the election's closing weeks. Pro-Trump members rebelled in anger, accusing Ryan of conceding the election to Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, Ryan said he would devote his energy to ensuring Clinton doesn't get a "blank cheque" as president with a Democrat-controlled Congress, according to people on his private conference call with Republican House members.
Ryan's announcement underscored the perilous predicament Republicans find themselves in one month from the election. Recent revelations of Trump's predatory sexual comments about women deepened the worries among Republican officials who fear he'll drag down their own electoral prospects in November. But others look at Trump's loyal bands of supporters and see no way for Republicans in other races to win without their support.
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Clinton has led Trump in most national opinion polls for months, and Trump's poll numbers have begun to drop further since the emergence on Friday of a video from 2005 showing the former reality TV star bragging crudely about groping women and making unwanted sexual advances.
Ryan, who had expressed disgust over the tape and canceled a campaign event with Trump over the weekend, stopped short of rescinding his tepid endorsement of Trump.
Pence stands with Trump
Running mate Mike Pence said he was staying with Trump. "I'm honoured to be standing with him," Pence said.
At a campaign event Monday, Pence focused on Trump's apologies instead of his words.
"We all fall short of the glory of God," Pence said during a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. "I believe in forgiveness."
Trump's candidacy long ago laid bare the turmoil roiling the Republican Party.
Some party leaders had hoped to push off a reckoning until after the election, but with Ryan and other lawmakers publicly distancing themselves from Trump — and in some cases even calling for the real estate mogul to drop out of the race — that now appears impossible.
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For Ryan, the most pressing goal through the next four weeks is preventing Republicans from losing control of the House, a scenario that seemed remote as recently as a week ago. Although Republicans are not yet panicking given their wide 246-186 seat majority, Ryan and Greg Walden, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, both acknowledged on Monday's conference call that the majority was more in peril in light of Trump's problems.
Walden told lawmakers they still could win their seats, but it would require delicate manoeuvring akin to landing an airplane in a hurricane in a fog, several participants said.
On the other side of the Capitol, there were also signs that more Republican Senate candidates were moving to distance themselves from Trump. Two Republicans said they expected to see ads urging voters to back Republican Senate candidates as a check on Clinton's power in the White House, with one of the Republicans saying the spots could come as soon as this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to even acknowledge Trump Monday, telling a group of business leaders in his home state of Kentucky that if they expected to hear him discuss the presidential race they "might as well go ahead and leave."
Clinton's campaign hammered Republicans for recoiling from Trump at this late date and urged voters to hold Republican candidates accountable for standing by their nominee for months.
Clinton courts Republicans
"Donald Trump didn't become the nominee of his party on his own," said Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director.
Seeking to pad her lead in battleground states, Clinton was making a direct appeal for moderate Republican voters turned off by Trump. The Clinton campaign released new ads featuring Republican voters crossing party lines to cast their ballots for the former secretary of state.
"I don't always agree with her but she's reasonable and she's smart," Republican Jennifer Kohn says in one spot.
Trump supporters are furious at the notion that Republican leaders are abandoning the nominee selected by their party. In the conference call with Ryan, Dana Rohrabacher called the leaders "cowards," according to one participant, who like others, insisted on anonymity in order to describe the private discussions.
Republicans stay 'on course'
Corey Stewart, the chairman of Trump's Virginia campaign, said Ryan and other party elite didn't understand that "the grassroots took control of this party when we nominated Donald Trump." Stewart said he was leading a group of Republicans to protest outside party headquarters near the Capitol Monday afternoon.
Stewart was fired immediately after the protest, which drew dozens of angry Trump supporters to the front step of the Republican National Committee headquarters.
"Corey made this decision when he staged a stunt in front of the RNC without the knowledge or the approval of the Trump campaign," deputy campaign manager Dave Bossie said.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus was convening a call with party members later Monday.
After the call, Priebus said the party remains in full co-ordination with Trump.
"Everything is on course," Priebus said, according to a participant in the call.
Trump had hoped to stop the exodus of Republicans running away from his campaign with a solid performance in Sunday's presidential debate. He did energize his core supporters by hurling insults at Clinton — he called her the "devil" and promised to put her in jail if he's president — but he appeared to do little to win over new voters. He insisted his aggressively vulgar remarks on the videotape were mere "locker room" talk and tried to turn the attention to Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs.
Watch The Choice 2016 on the Passionate Eye on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. ET & PT on CBC News Network for new insights into Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and why they both want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.
With files from Reuters