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Republicans Faced With If To Back Trump Or Withdraw Support

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republicans running for election in Congress are facing a choice right now - whether they can abandon their presidential nominee after his sexually aggressive and vulgar comments about women, or if they should just try to ride out the storm.

Congressman Joe Heck decided he would withdraw his support. He's running for a Nevada Senate seat. And his announcement yesterday got a mixed reaction from the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE HECK: I believe our only option is to formally ask Mr. Trump to step down...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering, booing).

HECK: ...And to allow Republicans the opportunity to elect someone who will provide us with the strong leadership so desperately needed and one that Americans deserve.

MARTIN: Susan Davis has been following the fallout to this latest twist in a presidential election that's already had its fair share of twists, as well as what this means for the rest of the Republican ticket.

Hi, Sue, thanks for coming in.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: John McCain has withdrawn his support. Kelly Ayotte said she wouldn't vote for him. Joe Heck, as we just heard, urged him to drop out. Some of these are vulnerable GOP candidates in tight races. So what's their political calculus?

DAVIS: I think the calculus right now is every man for himself. I mean, right now, the Republican Party is a party in crisis. And that initial flood of lawmakers who came out to either withdrawal support or say they would never vote for him is a signal of how concerned they are about his down-ballot impact.

The calculus is that these comments so alienate female voters, swing voters, independent voters and those voters left undecided that if they stick with Trump, they may not be able to win. The challenge that they have in now distancing themselves from their nominee is do they then, in turn, alienate the voters who are going to stick by Trump and still vote for him?

MARTIN: Which is clearly what is vexing Paul Ryan, the House speaker. Yesterday, he had disinvited Donald Trump from this so-called GOP unity event. He has disavowed the comments that were revealed in those tapes from 11 years ago. But he hasn't said that he's taking back his support of Donald Trump as the nominee.

I mean, is he - what can he do at this point? How does he walk this line?

DAVIS: Well, only one elected Republican leader in Congress has unendorsed Donald Trump. It is Senator John Thune. He's a Republican from South Dakota.

The challenge for Paul Ryan is that Donald Trump is still the nominee of this party. And if the speaker were to withdrawal his endorsement, that would be - send a very clear signal that the Republican Party does not believe Donald Trump can win. I think we've seen Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - they've been very quiet in the fallout of this. I think they are waiting to see how it plays out.

And it's important to remember - you know, the initial polling we've seen - and this is too soon to say - but the initial rush of polling suggests the Republican Party - the majority of Republicans believe the party leaders should stand by Donald Trump.

MARTIN: So does that mean we are unlikely to see more big defections?

DAVIS: I think - the leaders - the Republicans I've talked to and leaders and - are looking to the debate tonight to see - how does Donald Trump perform? Can he turn this around? And if he doubles down on saying the inappropriate things that he said, then it is likely we will see more defections.

I think there is - you know, hope is fading that he can turn it around, but all hope is not lost yet.

MARTIN: NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks so much, Sue.

DAVIS: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: And you can hear the second presidential debate, where we're bound to hear more on this tape - the Trump revelations - tonight. Our colleague, Robert Siegel, will anchor live coverage airing on many NPR stations, beginning at 9:00 p.m. And we'll have live fact-checking happening at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.