On Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told his wing that he is done supporting the Republican nominee Donald Trump, and that he will not campaign with him, but he did not withdraw his support for Trump.
Ryan was speaking on a conference call after a historically bad week for the Party’s nominee which ended by Trump handily losing the second presidential debate to the Democratic nominee, but stopping short of imploding.
Ever since Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in May, Ryan has walked a tightrope with his support of the candidate.
At first, he claimed that he was “not ready” when first asked whether he supported Trump. After weeks of backroom negotiations, the Speaker came out and said that he was voting for Trump, but did not say that he was endorsing Trump:
“Through these conversations, I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives … That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall.”
Ryan also warned that he would speak up when he disagreed with Trump, and true to his word, for a few weeks after his half endorsement, he did. And then, he stopped — he all but stopped talking about Trump.
This was followed by Trump showing how childish and unreliable he can be when he said that he is “not ready” to endorse Paul Ryan in his primary. Trump could have taken the position that he does not take sides in primaries — a position commonly taken. But that was not obvious enough for Trump.
After significant blowback from his party, Trump came ultimately endorsed Ryan prior to the primary.
There is no question that the Speaker is in a very tough spot when it comes to Trump. He is the top elected official of a party that is having an existential moment — it was already something that was boiling to a head, but Trump introduced atomic fuel to it.
The Speaker is tasked generally with keeping his party together, that it obtains the best results in the national elections, and specifically to assure that it maintains or increases its majority in the House of Representatives.
Aside from keeping the House majority, that is an extremely tall order. With Trump’s rise, an extremely vociferous faction of the party that had been ignited by Newt Gingrich in the 90’s and showed up as the Tea Party in the mid 2000’s and which gelled together as the Alt Right has been given an opportunity to completely highjack the party.
Ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republican Party has become a home for white nationalists — and whatever they have been named during the decades that have followed. Until Newt Gingrich, that faction was largely hidden and though some portion of them voted, it was largely silent, with its members keeping their membership largely secret.
As that group has became louder since the 90’s and gelling in the party, the Republican Party has largely catered to them without officially embracing them. In fact, it has treated the faction as more a ball and chain than anything else, being frustrated by their complete resistance to let government move forward.
By contrast, Donald Trump fully embraced the Alt Right. In fact, it was part of Trump’s initial strategy even before he announced to reach out to this group which was not voting at the same rates as others. That strategy became Trump’s official strategy when he brought on Steve Bannon of Breitbart News and Kellyanne Conway — who was head of a super PAC funded by Breitbart’s primary funder.
The existential moment for the Republican Party which has been years in the making is finally upon it. And Paul Ryan is sitting in the middle of it. There is some percentage of Republican voters that are members of the Alt Right. There is another portion of the party which while not in full agreement with the Alt Right is willing to embrace some of its beliefs. For example, some of the highly socially conservative Republicans are not greatly bothered by the Alt Right.
This means that as the leader of the Party, fully turning his back to Trump comes with great risk, both for the Party and for Ryan’s presidential prospects. Ryan must continue to withdraw support in a measured way. As Trump’s support within the Party wanes, so does the number of voters that will feel alienated. Meaning, as Trump keeps going to the right in order to find support, his pool of support dwindles.
Simply put, while it may feel painful in the very short term, the Republican Party will likely be better off if Hillary Clinton wins by a landslide in November, and so long as the House majority is not lost, the more lopsided, the better.
Paul Ryan will not withdraw his support for Trump unless and until he completely implodes.
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Slant.