The New York real estate developer lobbed attack after attack against GOP leaders and lawmakers, a stunning volley in what could become an intraparty civil war.
Trump also unveiled a new attack ad against Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy record, saying she lacked the “fortitude’’ to lead the country, what outside strategists see as edging closer to a gender-based attack on the first woman to lead a national ticket.
Trump reverted to the contentious, antiestablishment mode that launched him to the top of the field in the Republican nominating contest, a move that could solidify his base of discontented voters but is also certain to alienate independents and other swing voters that he needs to have a shot at winning.
Trump’s actions since a recording of him making crude and predatory comments about women surfaced Friday have only made it more difficult for him to recover in the final weeks, strategists said.
“It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, kicking off his daylong attack waged in his trademark mix of defiance and vainglory.
The Twitter rant followed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement Monday that he would leave his endorsement of Trump in place but not actively support or defend the GOP nominee. Trump’s answer seemed to signal that attempts by his campaign handlers to moderate his image and unify the party were over.
“Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win — I will teach them!” he declared.
Trump called Ryan “weak and ineffective.” Then he turned his fire on Arizona Senator John McCain, who rescinded his endorsement of Trump after the damaging decade-old tape of Trump’s talking about aggressively kissing women and grabbing them in the genitals came to light.
“The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!” Trump tweeted.
National polls conducted after the Washington Post revealed the tape Friday show Clinton opening up a hefty lead ahead of Trump, in some cases beating the Republican by double digits.
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday suggested that Trump’s debate performance Sunday night, in which he briefly apologized for the comments on the tape but repeated his stance that it was common “locker room” banter, helped him make up some lost ground with Republican voters.
The survey found Clinton had opened up an 11-point lead among likely voters during two days of polling — Saturday and Sunday. A third day of polling on Monday, after the debate, caused Clinton’s lead to drop to 9 points, with the difference coming from Republicans swinging back to Trump’s side.
Still, strategists said that the damage inflicted on Trump’s image, particularly among undecided women, may be too much to overcome, and lashing out at the rest of his party isn’t doing him any favors.
“His hardest core base of support may be energized by these types of fights, but the broader group of Republicans who have been leaning his way are going to be very conflicted and demotivated by the spectacle of their party leaders in open warfare,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former Republican strategist.
The “Access Hollywood” tape and its aftermath also hurt Trump with the last significant group of undecided voters left in the electorate — married, college-educated women who tend to lean Republican but have been hesitant for much of the campaign season to back Trump, said Schnur.
“It’s almost impossible to see how the events of the last several days can do anything but harm him with this critical group of women,” he said.
The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee mined the hacked Clinton campaign e-mails released by WikiLeaks for ammunition. Among their accusations: the e-mails showed Clinton campaign staffers coordinated with the Department of Justice on the investigation into her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.
The e-mails indicate that Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon was in contact with unnamed Justice sources about the timing of a “status hearing” on releasing Clinton’s e-mails, but such information is public record.
Trump’s campaign on Tuesday unveiled a new ad painting Clinton as not up to the task of protecting the country against foreign threats. As images flash of Clinton coughing into her fist, stumbling while walking up the stairs, and nearly collapsing as she is guided into her car at a Sept. 11 event this year — when she was suffering from pneumonia — the narrator warns that “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the fortitude, strength, or stamina to lead in our world.”
The imagery in the ad, which the Trump campaign said would begin airing nationally and put in heavy rotation in battleground states, echoes conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that bubbled up on right-wing websites.
Trump released the spot two days after he said in the debate that he admired her tenacity.
“I will say this about Hillary: She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that,” Trump said in Sunday night’s debate.
“This latest ad, I really don’t even have words for it, how bad it is,” said Christine Matthews, a Republican consultant from Alexandria. “I would call it a blatantly sexist ad.”
Before Trump came on the 2016 scene, Matthews’s firm Burning Glass was commissioned to figure out how a Republican candidate could take on Clinton and win over women voters.
Matthews found that a GOP candidate should not attack Clinton’s health or raise Bill Clinton’s sexual misdeeds — both strategies that Trump has since employed.
Such tactics will only generate sympathy for Clinton and further alienate any sliver of the female electorate that isn’t already firmly against Trump, she said.
“There were plenty of places you could go to contrast against Hillary Clinton, but something like this is completely the wrong direction,” she said.
Victoria McGrane can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.