Vulnerable Senate Republicans are deploying an array of tactics to stanch the down-ballot bleeding from Donald Trump’s caught-on-tape remarks about women, from vocal condemnation to pleas to forgive the real estate mogul and focus on Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses.
Mr. Trump’s personal feuds and strident views on immigration and trade have riled Republican leaders for months, though his lewd “hot mic” remarks from an “Access Hollywood” taping presented peril for Senate Republicans clinging to a 54-46 majority against a tough electoral map.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has taken a low-key approach by refusing to discuss the presidential race publicly, even after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, announced that he would no longer defend Mr. Trump or campaign with him.Yet nearly three-quarters of Republicans said party leaders should continue to back Mr. Trump, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the leaked tape, and some have taken stances that would appear contradictory.
While each Republican senator forges his or her own path — stick with Mr. Trump or write in someone else — no one is telling voters what to do.
“That would really be a recipe for disaster, to say, ‘Don’t vote against Trump,’” said Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell, who argued that less than 10 percent of battleground-state voters would reject Mr. Trump but support a Republican senator down the ballot. “Rank-and-file voters aren’t saying, ‘Let’s save the Senate’ like it’s the Alamo.”
Though in this crazy election cycle, Mr. O’Connell said, silence is “probably the best way to go.”