'The shackles are off': Trump steps up attacks on party leaders, says he'll fight for the presidency 'the way I want to'
Published 12/10/2016 | 06:50
An "unshackled" Donald Trump has stepped up his attacks on his own party leaders, promising to teach Republicans who oppose him a lesson and fight for the presidency "the way I want to".
"I'm just tired of non-support" from leaders of the party, Mr Trump said on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor.
He particularly singled out House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told Republicans on Monday he would no longer campaign for Mr Trump with four weeks to go until election day.
"I don't want his support, I don't care about his support," Mr Trump said. "I wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you, including Ryan. By the way, including Ryan, especially Ryan."
With his campaign floundering and little time to steady it, the New York tycoon reverted to the combative, divisive strategy that propelled him to victory in the party primary, attacking every critic - including fellow Republicans.
Those close to Mr Trump suggested it was "open season" on every detractor, regardless of party.
"It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to," he said in a tweet that brought new concern - near panic in some cases - to a party trying to stave off an all-out civil war before November 8.
In another series of tweets, the Republican nominee called Mr Ryan "weak and ineffective", senator John McCain "very foul-mouthed", and "disloyal" Republicans "far more difficult than Crooked Hillary".
"They come at you from all sides," he said. "They don't know how to win - I will teach them!"
At a night rally in Florida hours later, he made no mention of the apparent civil war, instead training his fire on his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Rage against fellow Republicans exposed a party slipping from feuding into verbal warfare with advance voting already under way in roughly half the states. Polls suggest Mr Trump is heading for a loss of historic proportions if he does not turn things around.
His combative approach, days after his sexually predatory language caught on tape triggered a mass Republican defection, threatened to alienate even more supporters.
"Fighting for the sake of fighting is not really very helpful," said former Trump adviser Barry Bennett.
Mr Trump has acknowledged the possibility of defeat in recent days, but on Tuesday he tried to shift the blame for his struggles on to Republican defections and an election system that may be "rigged" against him.
On Monday, he warned of potential voter fraud in heavily African-American Philadelphia, a claim for which there is no evidence but one that could challenge Americans' faith in a fair democratic process.
At the same time, his campaign is considering whether to feature Bill Clinton accusers at his upcoming rallies. Mr Trump shocked the political world before Sunday's debate by appearing with several women who had accused the former president of sexual impropriety decades earlier.
The aggressive shift is in line with the philosophy of recently hired campaign chaiman Steve Bannon, whose conservative website has long fuelled attacks on Republican leaders and perpetuated popular conservative conspiracy theories.
The approach has done little to endear Mr Trump to anxious party leaders. At least 40 Republican senators and congressmen have revoked their support for the embattled Republican nominee - with nearly 30 urging him to quit the race altogether.
Mr Ryan, in a Monday conference call with congressional Republicans, said he would no longer campaign with Mr Trump. He said he would focus instead on ensuring Ms Clinton doesn't get a "blank check" with a Democratic-controlled Congress, all but conceding that Mr Trump would lose the presidential contest.
Mr Trump's running mate Mike Pence said in an interview with NBC that he was "disappointed" by the defections and "respectfully" disagreed with Mr Ryan.