WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton is pressing Republicans to take a clear stand on Donald Trump as she tries to capitalize on GOP divisions since revelation of his predatory comments about women prompted party leaders to abandon him.
The Democratic candidate’s campaign manager, John Podesta, said that she will assert at campaign stops Wednesday that Republicans — particularly those running for office in November — need to clarify their position on Trump.
“Are they with him or are they against him?” Podesta asked.
Trump, meanwhile, was highlighting a new batch of hacked Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group.
He tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” He cited no examples from the Podesta emails that he considered noteworthy.
Podesta says the FBI is investigating Russia’s possible involvement in the hacking of thousands of his personal emails, raising the extraordinary prospect of a link between Russia and the U.S. presidential election. Podesta also said, without offering proof, that Trump’s campaign may have been aware of the hacking in advance.
While acknowledging the evidence was circumstantial, Podesta said the alleged ties could be driven either by Trump’s policy positions, which at times echo the Kremlin, or the Republican’s “deep engagement and ties with Russian interests in his business affairs.”
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone flatly denied any such link to Russia, and senior Russian officials denied interfering in the election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday in Moscow that “hysterics have been whipped up to distract the attention of the American people from the essence of what the hackers released … For some reason nobody talks about this. They talk about who did it. Is it really that important?”
Previewing Clinton’s planned rallies in Pueblo, Colorado, and Las Vegas, Podesta said even those Republicans who have revoked their support for Trump following revelation of his sexually aggressive comments have “propped him up for a very long time.” One such Republican, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, reversed herself and said she will support Trump after all.
As party leaders step away from him, Trump is vowing to win the election his own way.
He declared on Fox News on Tuesday night that he’s “just tired of non-support” from Republican leaders and “I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people.”
Those people might need a foxhole. With his campaign floundering and little time to steady it, he’s reverting to the combative, divisive strategy that propelled him to victory in the GOP primary, not that he ever left that fully behind. That means attack every critic — including fellow Republicans. Those close to Trump suggest it is “open season” on every detractor, regardless of party.
That approach raises questions about the future direction of the Republican Party. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said Wednesday she does not foresee a new political party emerging from the Trump split.
“What I think you do see is a party that has growing pains because it is an expansive party that represents different viewpoints,” she said on Fox News. “So I think this party is very dangerously close to being the party of the elites. And yet Donald Trump is really giving voice to the workers. … He’s been able to expand the party in many ways.”
Trump is striking hard at House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told Republicans Monday he’ll no longer campaign for Trump with four weeks to go before Election Day.
“I don’t want his support, I don’t care about his support,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you, including Ryan. By the way, including Ryan, especially Ryan.”
Trump has acknowledged the possibility of defeat in recent days, but on Tuesday he tried to shift the blame for his struggles on Republican defections and an election system that may be “rigged” against him. On Monday, he warned of potential voter fraud in heavily African-American Philadelphia, a claim for which there is no evidence but one that could challenge Americans’ faith in a fair democratic process.
Yet Trump’s aggressive shift is popular among his most loyal supporters, who continue to flock to his rallies by the thousands.
Allison Ellis, 30, deemed Ryan “a traitor” and shrugged off Trump’s sexually aggressive comments in the 2005 video. She pointed at Democrat Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings.
“I have daughters and I don’t like what he said but I also wouldn’t want to be held responsible for everything I said 11 years ago,” Ellis said at Trump’s Panama City Beach, Florida, rally. “And it’s nothing compared to what she did — she should be in jail.”
But some of Trump’s supporters admitted their confidence was shaken.
“I still think he can do it, but he has to play mistake-free the rest of the way,” said Mike Novoret, 59. “If something else comes up, he’s toast.”
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.