I just got an email from the DCCC under the subject heading “Ryan embraces Trump.”
That might be a politically useful way to characterize the situation — it’s useful, I suppose, to show how craven the Republicans are, and especially to tie Donald Trump around the neck of Paul Ryan, who is worth the Democrats’ damaging if they can — but I think it misses the reality of what Ryan did today.
And that also means that it fails to show what it is that Ryan is trying to do. At least as I see it.
The important underlying reality is that Ryan wants to be president. 2020 might be a possibility. In the face of Trump’s nomination, he faces a very complex challenge: how to find a course, with this problematic nominee, that maximizes that possibility.
So what we are seeing is a clever politician trying to navigate his way through this challenge in a way that:
1) Keeps himself as free as possible of the taint and burden of Trump, who is not only repugnant to many Americans, but also might lead the Party into an electoral disaster this fall;
2) Avoids alienating that part of the Republican base that is enthusiastic for Trump– which is a big enough portion of the base that they have been able to hand Trump the Republican nomination for president.
Ryan cares about those Trump supporters not so much because he fears for his ability to keep winning his House seat– as Trump did poorly in Ryan’s District as well as in Wisconsin generally. (Of course, it’s always good to avoid alienating any segment of voters.) But a Republican candidate for president, running nationally, will have to be very concerned about staying on the good side the large number of Trump supporters around the country.
So he goes into the meeting and speaks of the importance of unity, and of being ““totally committed to working together,” which commits him to nothing, and may be designed to show the Trump supporters that he really wants this to work out, and that he is making the effort. And “I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified.”
No real embrace in any of that. As the Huffington Post reporter on today’s meeting notes, the one essential thing that was missing was “the speaker’s endorsement of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.”
As Ryan said after the meeting, “unifying the party is a process that simply “takes a little time.” And Ryan here is playing for time. Working to see how the situation develops, and to figure out accordingly what route he can take that ties him as little as possible to Trump while maintaining a positive image with the Trump supporters.
Ryan may end up supporting Trump, or he might not. He may have made his mind up which he is going to do or he might be feeling his way.
But either way, one thing I think we can say: If his posture of “I’ve got to be reassured” is sincere, Paul Ryan is a fool.
We’ve all seen enough to know who and what Trump is, and anyone but some kind of fool would know that nothing Trump might say or do could reasonably reassure anyone about it being OK for the United States to have a President Trump.
Given the qualities that he has shown — the bullying, the picking of fights, the readiness with the insult, the obsession with winning, the boasting, the shameless lying — anyone but a fool must know that it cannot be OK to hand the powers of the presidency to such a man.
So if Ryan does end up endorsing Trump, he’s either a fool or a person willing to sacrifice the nation to protect his political ambitions.