Hours after a contentious second presidential debate, House Speaker Paul Ryan in a bold move told Republicans Monday he will not be defending Donald Trump or campaign with him for the next 29 days and instead will focus on down ballot races.
The announcement comes as GOP leaders have not only distanced themselves from the Republican nominee following a leaked 2005 tape of Trump bragging about groping and kissing women without their consent, but have also rescinded their endorsements.
"You all need to do what’s best for you in your district," Ryan said on a call with House Republicans intended to offer party members an opportunity to voice concerns, not limited to Trump.
Trump quickly tweeted that Ryan should "spend more time on balancing the budget" than fighting him.
A flood of Republicans broke from the GOP nominee in the aftermath of the leaked video, including Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. Trump's vice presidential pick Mike Pence said he was "offended by the words" and "cannot defend them." Fifty Republicans have demanded he drop out or said they won't vote for him, according to NBC News' count.
Ryan, who previously reacted to the comments by saying he was "sickened," said this move was solely about the advancement of the party, according to a source on the call.
"The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities," Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong said.
Following immediate backlash from some conservatives, Ryan reiterated that this didn't mean he was unendorsing the candidate, according to a source on the call.
An "Access Hollywood" video tape from 2005 released Friday afternoon showed Trump boasting about a failed attempt to seduce a married woman and his approach with women as a celebrity. Trump is heard in the video saying, "when you're a star, they let you do it."
Trump's senior communications adviser responded to Ryan's comments, saying "nothing's changed."
"Mr. Trump's campaign has always been powered by a grassroots movement, not Washington," Jason Miller said.