Trump Loses Momentum Just Weeks After Big GOP 'Endorsements'

A couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump was riding a wave of Republican unity to the top of several national polls while Hillary Clinton struggled against an insurrection within her own party that threatened to distract her campaign into the summer.

Much has changed.

After a tumultuous week of picking fights with the media, a federal judge, and any Republican who criticized him, Trump had started an effort to reset the race by laying out his case against Clinton.

The terrorist attack in Orlando on Sunday has presented new challenges, though, and Trump's response to it-- thanking supporters for congratulating him for expecting a terrorist attack to occur, questioning the president's loyalty, and ramping up his anti-Muslim rhetoric-- has reopened divisions within the GOP.

Republican lawmakers' responses to questions about Trump's fiery words this week have mostly varied from lukewarm support to outright condemnation to simply fleeing reporters asking questions about him.

Republican strategists say members of their party expressing differences with their nominee is not unusual, and it happened with Mitt Romney in 2012 too, but the way they are doing it with Trump is different and more problematic.

"Republicans have a kneejerk reaction to criticize the nominee early and often," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said.

He contrasted McConnell's dismissals of Trump's controversial comments with Ryan outright declaring his attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel "racist."

"There's a much more subtle way to do that so you're not just kneecapping the nominee."

Politicians may think they are helping secure their own seat in their local races, O'Connell said, but a weak candidate at the top of the ballot will hurt them in the long run. By criticizing Trump, they feed the media cycle and keep the spotlight on his problems.

"In a lot of ways, Trump winged it through the primary and he was very successful," O'Connell said. "But he has to understand the general election is a different animal."

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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Analysis & Political Strategy