Mitch McConnell dumps all over Trump in new interview for some reason

I don’t understand this strategy of endorsing the guy and then tearing him up in interviews, which is what Ryan’s also been doing lately. It’s too cute by half. The idea, borrowed from Trump himself, is to try to pander to opposing constituencies, like when Trump assures populists that he’ll deport the illegals and then assures everyone else that the “good ones” will be allowed back in. He gets away with that because he has a knack, as all great communicators do, of making people believe that deep down he agrees with their position. McConnell doesn’t have that knack. He badmouths Trump because he doesn’t want the media hanging Trump’s every word around the necks of Senate Republicans but he sticks by his endorsement because he’s afraid Trump fans won’t vote Republican downballot this fall if he rescinds it. To paraphrase Trump himself, he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and McConnell would lambaste him for 20 minutes — before reiterating that Trump, of course, has his support. (This is also the Rubio approach.)

I doubt anyone’s buying it, though, whether pro-Trump or anti. If you’re a fan of the nominee, watching McConnell undermine him repeatedly is annoying. If you’re not a fan, watching McConnell cling to his endorsement is annoying too. As the great political philosopher Mr Miyagi once said, “Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later — squish, just like grape.”

“He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues,” McConnell said. “You see that in the debates in which he’s participated. It’s why I have argued to him publicly and privately that he ought to use a script more often—there is nothing wrong with having prepared texts.”…

“I said, ‘Hey Donald, you got a script?’ and he pulled it out of his pocket. He said, ‘You know I hate scripts, they’re so boring.’ And I said, ‘Put me down in favor of boring. You’ve demonstrated that you have a lot of Twitter followers and you’re good at turning on a big audience. Now you need to demonstrate you have the seriousness of purpose that is required to be president of the United States, and most candidates on frequent occasions use a script.’ So we’ll see whether that’s something he’s capable of doing.”…

“I think the choice for many Americans is not a happy choice,” he said. “You look at both these candidates, both of them have very high disapproval ratings. I think a lot of Americans are not going be thrilled at the choice.

He also said he expects this’ll be a ticket-splitting year no matter who wins the presidency. When was the last time a major figure in either party implied that he expects his party to lose either the White House or the Senate? Trump should dial him up and offer him a deal: I’ll start using scripts more extensively if you start acting like you’re even a tiny bit enthusiastic about me being nominated. Right now McConnell talking about Trump sounds like a general talking about Iraq circa 2006 — it’s a mess, no one knows what’s going on, no one knows if there’s a way out, but we’re fully committed to the mission. There’s your Republican bumper sticker for the fall.

Ryan’s been better in trying to emphasize the upside of having a Republican president to rubber-stamp the House’s agenda but in other ways he’s worse:

McConnell, the Senate majority leader from Kentucky, has steadfastly declined to call Trump’s criticism of a federal judge “racist,” a term that Ryan (R-Wis.) pointedly deployed.

“It sets up journalists to ask, ‘Do you agree with Paul Ryan that it was racist?” said an aide to a vulnerable GOP senator…

Another Republican senator was more diplomatic: “If he could have gotten his point across without being so definitive and giving Democrats fodder for people lower on the ticket, that would have been good.”…

“His comments poured gasoline on the fire and put every Republican in an incredibly uncomfortable position. It was entirely avoidable,” another Senate GOP aide told The Hill on Tuesday.

Ryan would probably say that he felt morally obliged to call Trump’s attack on the judge what it was but that moral imperative obviously wasn’t strong enough to get him to retract his endorsement over it. On the contrary, Ryan spent the next day making the case to House Republicans that they should back Trump. If your motive in supporting Trump is to deny Hillary Clinton veto power as president over Republican legislation, why would you hand Democrats a soundbite about Trump and racism that they’ll deploy in attack ads for the rest of the campaign — and not just the presidential campaign either? Squish, just like grape.

What Ryan and McConnell should do, and what they’re almost certainly going to end up doing as the campaign progresses, is refuse to talk about Trump beyond perfunctory statements like “I support the nominee” and “he’ll have to answer for his own rhetoric.” If he farts out something new about a “Mexican” official somewhere being unfair to him, just say that that doesn’t reflect your own view and you won’t comment on it beyond that. Democrats will howl that that’s cowardice and that GOP leaders should be more forceful in condemning Trump’s demagoguery, but oh well. That’s the price Ryan and McConnell will have to pay now that voters have stuck them with Trump and they’ve agreed to embrace him. That is to say, if you’re behind the nominee on the theory that even the worst Republican is better than a Democrat then get behind him. Stop trying to have it both ways by propping him up and tearing him down at the same time. Both sides of the Trump divide on the right deserve better than that.