Trump steps up attacks on US House speaker, says "shackles" are off

USA-ELECTION/DEBATE Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump during the presidential debate | Reuters

White House candidate Donald Trump stepped up his attacks against U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday, calling him a weak and ineffective leader but  saying his campaign "shackles" were off now that Ryan and other  establishment Republicans have abandoned him.

The day after Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, told  party lawmakers he was breaking with the presidential nominee  and would not campaign for him, Trump issued a barrage of social  media posts criticizing Republicans who have fled his campaign.

The stinging attacks deepened a dramatic rift in the party  over the former reality TV star, who has seen a string of  Republican defections after a video surfaced on Friday showing  him bragging crudely to a reporter in 2005 about groping women  and making unwanted sexual advances."Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad  conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty,"  Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday.

He complained in another tweet that it was hard to do well  with "zero support" from Ryan and others, but added in a later  Twitter post, "It is so nice that the shackles have been taken  off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.

"Ryan told congressional Republicans he would put his energy  into preserving party majorities in Congress, all but conceding  that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would likely win the  White House in the November 8 election. The move angered some Trump  supporters, although Ryan said he would not withdraw his  endorsement of the New York businessman.

Trump, 70, has portrayed himself as tough on national  security, and his campaign released a television advertisement  on Tuesday featuring footage of Clinton, a 68-year-old former  secretary of state, stumbling last month after leaving a service commemorating the September 11 attacks. Her campaign said she had  been diagnosed a few days earlier with pneumonia.

"Hillary Clinton doesn't have the fortitude, strength or  stamina to lead in our world," the ad's narrator says. "She  failed as secretary of state. Don't let her fail us again."Trump, whose campaign has been marked for months by  controversies over both his policies and his brash style, has slipped further behind Clinton in opinion polls.

Republican worries

Many Republicans are worried his chaotic campaign could hurt  their chances of holding majorities in the House of  Representatives and Senate in next month's election, and will  inflict long-term damage on the party.

In an extraordinary party revolt, nearly half of all 331  incumbent Republican senators, House members and governors have  condemned Trump's lewd remarks on the video, and roughly one in  10 have called for him to drop out of the race, a Reuters review  of official statements and local news coverage indicates.

Unlike Ryan, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince  Priebus told RNC members on Monday that the committee, the  party's leadership and fundraising arm, still backed Trump, two  RNC members told Reuters.

Trump's vice presidential running mate, Indiana Governor  Mike Pence, reinforced his support in television interviews on  Monday.New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former rival for the  White House who has became a close ally of Trump, also  reaffirmed his backing although he called Trump's comments in the 2005 video "completely indefensible."

"In the end, this election is about bigger issues than  that," Christie told CBS Radio's WFAN on Tuesday, adding he did  not blame other Republicans who have withdrawn their support.

US Representative Steve King of Iowa, however, did not  hesitate to criticize those backing away from Trump."That's a mistake ... that drags the entire ticket down," he  said in an interview with CNN. "What does it do to your  integrity if you help Hillary Clinton become president?"

Both Trump and Clinton head to the key battleground state of  Florida with campaign events later on Tuesday.The Reuters/Ipsos State of the Nation project released on  Monday estimated that Clinton had at least a 95 percent chance  of winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed to become  president. The polling did not capture reaction to Trump's  performance in Sunday's debate or Friday's news reports on the  video.

Clinton, the first woman to be picked as a presidential  nominee by a major US party, tried to focus on issues that  could win over undecided women voters on Tuesday, proposing to  expand the child tax credit so more low-income families can  benefit and to increase by $1,000 a year the tax credit  available to families for each child up to age 4.

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