WASHINGTON - Michigan Republicans largely stayed silent on Tuesday as the party's presidential nominee, Donald Trump, lashed out at House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans he labeled as "disloyal" for refusing to defend him.
Calling Ryan, the Republican House speaker and 2012 vice presidential nominee, "weak and ineffectual," Trump fired off a series of angry statements on Twitter on Tuesday morning, first boasting that "the shackles have been taken off" him now to campaign as he wishes with 28 days left until the election and then lambasting his own party by saying Democrats "have always proven to be far more loyal to each other than" Republicans.
The outburst — coming a day after Ryan told Republicans in the U.S. House he would not campaign with or defend Trump but instead concentrate on maintaining control of the House following the release of vulgar remarks made by Trump regarding women in 2005 — represented a remarkable and risky move by the nominee, especially since Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has not renounced his endorsement of Trump.
It also feeds into criticism of Trump that he cannot control his outbursts, such as after the first presidential debate, when he went on a late-night Twitter rant involving a Miss Universe winner he was accused of calling "Miss Piggy" when she put on weight, or after the Democratic convention in July, when he lashed out at the family of a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq after they appeared in support of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Just last week, Ryan was in Michigan, attending fund-raisers and campaigning for Jack Bergman, the GOP nominee in the 1st District in northern Michigan, and in metro Detroit, where he appeared for U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, who is running for his second two-year term in the 8th District. All nine of Michigan's Republican members of Congress also voted for Ryan for speaker in October of last year.
Asked about Trump's comments targeting Ryan, Bergman's campaign said it wasn't going to "comment on the daily back and forth between Mr. Trump and other national leaders." Bishop's campaign, meanwhile, also remained silent, with Bishop saying Monday that he, like Ryan, was going to concentrate on his own race for Congress and not discuss Trump between now and the election.
In fact, of all the Michigan Republican officeholders and candidates contacted by the Free Press on Tuesday, only one -- U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland -- offered up any reaction to Trump's tweets. Huizenga said he asked Ryan directly whether his comments Monday were meant as a repudiation of Trump and was told the speaker's endorsement of the Republican nominee stands but that his first duty is to work to elect House members.
"I did not take anything he (Ryan) said as some sort of abandonment or disloyalty (to Trump)," said Huizenga, who also remains supportive of the Republican nominee while at the same time denouncing Trump's 2005 comments.
"The circular firing party called the Republican Party right now needs to quit (shooting at each other)," he added, saying that while that's an issue for Republicans, it's also true of Democrats. "Frankly, it's a trend in American politics right now," he said.
Sarah Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, declined to address the circumstances directly, telling the Free Press, "We are working hard in Michigan to talk about issues. ... We aren't interested and won't comment on party infighting."
Of the state GOP members of Congress, only two — House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of St. Joseph and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township — have refused to endorse Trump. Last weekend, Upton called for Trump to abandon the ticket in the wake of the 2005 remarks in which Trump spoke of being able to kiss, grope and grab women's genitals due to his celebrity. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley also called for Trump to leave the race; Gov. Rick Snyder -- who hasn't endorsed in the race -- remained silent.
On Tuesday, it was clear Upton, like Bishop and others, was concentrating on his own race, not Trump's.
It was unclear from Trump's Twitter remarks what exactly he was characterizing as disloyal, but practically every member of Michigan's congressional delegation, as well as Bergman and businessman Paul Mitchell, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, issued statements denouncing Trump's 2005 remarks. None of them renounced their support of him but neither did Ryan, saying only that he was going to concentrate on House races, not the presidential race.
If Trump continues to rail against members of his own party, it could potentially tamp down his support in key Republican areas like western Michigan and Oakland County, however, as members of Congress distance themselves from him as their races move into the final stages. Similarly, if there are areas in which Trump turns out to be particularly strong — which could be the case in northern and south-central Michigan — it could potentially have an impact on Republican candidates in those areas if they are not seen as appropriately supportive of the nominee.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)