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At Critical Time for Campaign, Trump Visits Texas to Raise Money

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump dropped in on Texas on Tuesday to raise money for his campaign at a critical time as he seeks to recover from a devastating controversy with just under a month until Election Day.

Supporters of Republican Presidential nominee  Donald Trump, hold up letters to spell his name during an August 23, 2016 rally in Austin, Texas

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

SAN ANTONIO — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump dropped in on Texas on Tuesday to raise money for his campaign at a critical time, reeling from a devastating controversy and seeking new footing with just under a month until Election Day.

At afternoon fundraisers in Dallas and Houston, Trump spoke of a new, no-holds-barred chapter of his campaign, striking a defiant tone following a rash of defections in his own party. Mainly in San Antonio, Trump vented about Republicans who have not been fully supportive of him — including U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced Monday he will focus on down-ballot races in the home stretch to Nov. 8

Trump told donors Ryan's decision amounted to "total disloyalty to the party," according to audio of the event obtained by The Texas Tribune. He also criticized Ryan's time as Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012, claiming they disappeared from the spotlight in the final weeks before Election Day. And Trump lamented how it has seemed sometimes "harder to beat our own party than it is to beat" his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. 

Trump had previewed the message earlier Tuesday in a series of tweets harshly critical of Ryan — as well as a more ambiguous tweet proclaiming the "shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to." At the San Antonio fundraiser, Trump repeated the line, suggesting it meant he feels more untethered from the Republican establishment than ever. "I feel so good," Trump told donors.

"He said he’s glad to have the shackles off and now he doesn’t feel like he has to do certain things," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who attended the San Antonio event and met one-on-one with Trump. "But he was disappointed that he’s having to fight Hillary, the media and the party elites." 

Trump came off as more determined than ever, according to Miller and other attendees. They said he appeared particularly rejuvenated by his second debate Sunday with Clinton, viewing it as an opportunity to turn around his campaign after the discovery of a 2005 clip showing him speaking lewdly about women.  

"He felt like some of these guys that peeled off on him and stuff like that — he’s disappointed like many of us are, but he’s going to go forward and he’s going to win this election," said Robert Stovall, chairman of the Bexar County GOP. "It's just the way Donald Trump is. He knows how to finish out and close out, and I think this is where we’re going to turn the page with 28 days left.”

Trump's trip came four days after the 2005 clip surfaced showing him speaking lewdly about women, bragging about being able to force himself on them due to his fame. The revelation delivered a body blow to his campaign, causing dozens of Republican members of Congress to disown him and many others to denounce the comments. He has since apologized for the comments, including at his second debate Sunday with Clinton.

The fallout from the clip appeared to initially have an impact on Trump's Texas fundraisers, with reports suggesting over the weekend that Gene Powell, one of Trump's Texas Victory finance chairmen, was pulling out of the San Antonio event. On Monday, however, Powell issued a statement saying that he while he was "disgusted and offended" by Trump's remarks, he had one last obligation to the campaign — the fundraiser — and planned to follow through on it. 

Some Republicans involved in the fundraisers acknowledged the controversy may have initially depressed some enthusiasm among donors heading into Tuesday. But they were re-energized by Trump's aggressive performance in the debate, said the Republicans, hopeful Trump had reached a turning point.

Among Texas Republicans, Trump has experienced no prominent defections as he has bled GOP support elsewhere. On Monday, Toni Anne Dashiell, the vice chairwoman of Trump's statewide leadership team, released a statement that seemed to capture the sentiment of many Trump supporters in Texas, calling Trump's remarks "abhorrent and indefensible" but citing the debate as a stark reminder of the danger Clinton poses to the country. 

"Voting for her is simply not an option for any thoughtful, conservative woman in Texas," said Dashiell, a member of the Republican National Committee from Texas. "Too much is at stake in this election, especially the balance of the Supreme Court. I personally accept Donald Trump's apology and am confident that he will be a strong President for all Americans."

The Tuesday fundraisers could have been the last chance for Trump's Texas supporters to see him — and open their checkbooks for him — before he heads into more competitive territory in the final month of the race. He has previously raised several million dollars in fundraising swings through the famously donor-rich state. 

Tickets started at $500 per person for the San Antonio fundraiser and $2,700 per person for the Dallas event. At the highest level for the San Antonio fundraiser, a couple that paid $100,000 got four tickets. In Dallas, the maximum amount couples were being asked to give or raise was $893,000.

Hosting both fundraisers were Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee; Steve Mnuchin, finance chairman of the Trump campaign; Lewis Eisenberg, chairman of the Trump Victory joint fundraising committee between the RNC and Trump campaign; and Ray Washburne, finance vice chairman of Trump Victory. In San Antonio, Trump was also feted by Powell and Dennis Nixon, Texas finance chairman of Trump Victory. The additional hosts in Dallas included three national vice chairmen of Trump's campaign: Roy Bailey, Gentry Beach and Tommy Hicks. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Trump's overall efforts in Texas, was expected to attend both fundraisers.

A cast of Democrats were set to welcome Trump to both San Antonio and Dallas with news conferences proclaiming him unfit for the presidency. In San Antonio, the group included U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and congressional candidate Pete Gallego in San Antonio. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and state Sen. Royce West were set to speak in Dallas.

Castro told reporters he was "embarrassed" Trump was coming to the congressman’s hometown of San Antonio to raise money.

"Donald Trump and San Antonio don’t go together,” Castro said. “This is a family town. It’s a town built upon respect for many cultures and peoples. Donald Trump is a divisive authoritarian politician who’s dangerous to this country." 

Unlike past visits to Texas, Trump did not hold any public events in addition to his fundraisers. Trump was expected to have a relatively short window of time in Texas, having come from a Monday evening rally in Pennsylvania and due for another one at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Panama City, Florida.

Read more of our related coverage:

  • Where Texas Republicans stand on Donald Trump. 
  • Touring Muleshoe, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reiterated his support for Donald Trump, saying Hillary Clinton is "manifestly unfit" to be president. 
  • U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is coming to Texas to raise money as concentrates his attention on protecting the House Republican majority with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

Disclosure: Dennis Nixon has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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