This post has been updated with Donald Trump's response to Paul Ryan, which, you can imagine, is not warm and fuzzy.

Paul Ryan thinks Donald Trump is going to lose the presidential election. So he's going to save himself. The rest of Republicans in Congress are welcome to come along with him.

In a meeting with House Republican members on Monday morning, the House speaker said he's done defending and campaigning for the Republican presidential nominee and will be focused on House and Senate races only.

It's as clear of a break-up as you'll see in presidential politics -- at least from Ryan's perspective. Trump, for one, isn't necessarily thrilled. But it's not without risk.

AD

Ryan calculated that after Trump's 2005 leaked comments groping women and his all-hell-breaks-loose debate performance Sunday night, Trump is toast.

AD

And that could be a big problem for Ryan: If Trump loses by double digits -- no one really knows exactly where that magic line is -- most observers think Republicans on the ballot with him will go down too. There simply aren't enough Hillary Clinton voters who will cross party lines and vote for Republicans to make up for a 10-point Trump loss.

The battle for control of the Senate is already a nail biter, and if Trump loses by big enough margins, Ryan's historically large majority in the House of Representatives could go down with Trump too..

AD

So Ryan is going all in to try to save himself and his party's congressional majority.

We haven't seen something quite like this happen in presidential politics since 1996, when congressional Republicans ditched nominee Bob Dole in the final weeks before the election.

AD

But there's a big difference between then and now: Dole and his supporters accepted the shift quietly. It's almost guaranteed Trump and his supporters won't. And that could be a big problem for congressional Republicans who need the party's base of core supporters to win in tight races.

We're already seeing that dynamic play out. On Saturday, four vulnerable Senate Republican candidates reversed their support for him and said they couldn't vote for him. But one, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), got booed, when he said it.

AD

Trump's performance Sunday didn't make life easier for Republicans who want to avoid a backlash: Trump did well enough to satisfy his base, but not well enough to win over any new voters.

Speaking of which, there's no guarantee that ditching Trump now will help win over skeptical voters.

AD
Many independent and GOP voters — especially white women — have been turned off by Trump for months now. Senate Republicans will have to figure out a way to answer this question from voters: Why is hearing Trump's self-described “locker room banter” more than a decade ago any more offensive than when he suggested banning Muslims from the country, or when he accused a federal judge or not being able to do his job because of his “Mexican” heritage?
After each of those gasp-inducing comments from Trump, these Republican candidates maintained they would still be voting for Trump. It's a reality Democrats are all too happy to spend the next few weeks reminding voters about.
"Joe Heck supported Donald Trump as he bullied, demeaned, and disrespected women on the campaign trail," Dawn Laguens, the head of Planned Parenthood's political arm, said in a statement Saturday. " ... Joe Heck is not brave, rather he’s a desperate politician trying not to lose."

But just because Ryan's out -- though, as many Democrats were quick to point out, he hasn't recinded his endorsement -- doesn't mean the rest of the Republican Party is.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was photographed flying with Trump to Sunday's debate in St. Louis, a signal the GOP hasn't completely cut off its nominee.

AD

And Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) made clear Monday morning he's staying on as Trump's vice presidential nominee, despite their relationship being on the rocks.

The question now for Republicans nervous about sharing the ballot with Trump: Do they follow Ryan's lead, and try to save themselves, at the risk of upsetting voters in their own party? Or do they stick with Trump to the bitter end, whatever that may be?

AD
AD