Paul Ryan has seen enough of the presidential campaign, and wants to get out. The Speaker of the House told his caucus that he will no longer campaign with Donald Trump nor defend him publicly. Ryan apparently made that decision on Friday in canceling his joint appearance with Trump over the weekend after the release of the “grab her by the p****” video, but made it official today. Ryan also stressed that House members seeking re-election needed to prioritize their own campaigns over that of the Republican presidential nominee:
House Speaker Paul Ryan told fellow Republicans Monday he will no longer defend GOP nominee Donald Trump and will instead use the next 29 days to focus on preserving his party’s hold on Congress. …
In a conference call with members Monday morning, Ryan told members “you all need to do what’s best for you and your district,” according to someone who listened to the meeting.
At the same time, Ryan told his fellow House Republicans that his endorsement of Trump still stands:
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told rank-and-file Republicans he will not rescind his endorsement of Donald Trump for now but that he will not defend the embattled GOP presidential nominee, according to sources on a Monday conference call.
In other words, Ryan has decided to adjust his own priorities. As Speaker, his first priority should be to ensure that the GOP retains control of the lower chamber anyway. As a party leader, he owes some effort to the presidential effort too, but he’s basically saying he’ll do the minimum in continuing his formal endorsement, and that’s it — and letting his troops know that’s an acceptable decision for them too, on a case-by-case basis. Ryan’s looking at the long-term prospects for the GOP in that sense.
However, that has some long-term risks, too. The sudden abandonment of Trump by other party leaders generated a lot of anger, some of which Ryan himself fielded at the Saturday event from which he’d disinvited Trump. It’s a little late in the day for GOP figures to be shocked, shocked to find that Donald Trump is a vulgarian who oozes self-entitlement from every pore. That was his schtick not just for eleven seasons of The Apprentice, but also for the decades that he’s been in the public eye. Howard Stern had a field day with Trump in playing that up — and so did Trump himself, for that matter. Even if Trump himself admitted that his remarks went beyond the pale and had to apologize for them, that’s a matter of degree, not character.
Until now, the message from the GOP has been twofold: He may be a vulgarian but he’s our vulgarian, and The other option is worse. Er … what’s changed? The intellectual basis for Point Two is that we have to control Supreme Court nominations and that Hillary Clinton is too corrupt to hold office. Have those leaders changed their minds on that? If so, then let’s hear the arguments for their new position that the tape negates both of those underpinnings. Absent that, it looks like a panicked run for the exits for Trump’s endorsers.
And that has big implications for the long run. If the party stands behind Trump, at least formally, and he loses, then the lesson will be that Republican primary voters chose very very poorly and didn’t understand what it takes to win a general election. If the party abandons Trump 30 days before the election and he loses — especially if the impact of the tape turns out to be rather small (about which later) — then the narrative becomes “a stab in the back.” It will be difficult to argue for party unity after that, and it may end up destroying what’s left of the GOP’s credibility with its own voters.
It’s a lose-lose scenario either way, but right now, it looks like the GOP is acting in a completely reactionary manner than almost guarantees that they will maximize the damage from this cycle.
Update (AP): Precisely because of what Ed says about the risk of Ryan alienating pro-Trump Republican voters, the internal polling conducted by the GOP over the weekend must have been downright apocalyptic to convince him that cutting Trump loose this way nonetheless remains House Republicans’ best option. And apparently it was:
Many of these same operatives also said [before the debate] they did not think Trump’s horrible, no good past few days had put the GOP’s House majority — a 60-seat edge — in danger. “We aren’t in that zone yet,” said Mike Shields, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super-PAC aligned with Ryan that is spending $20 million to help the GOP keep its House majority.
But a few minutes after midnight, a House leadership aide texted me: “House in play.” I asked if this was based on any actual data. Yes, the aide said, but more will need to come in over the next few days to be certain.
Hillary knows it’s in play too. Until now, she’s made a point of saying that Trump doesn’t represent other Republicans, which is her way of trying to tempt anti-Trump GOPers into supporting her. But now she’s going for the kill:
Ryan is still endorsing Trump. https://t.co/L30EZvUbm0
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 10, 2016
The last NBC/WSJ poll gave Democrats a 48/45 advantage on the congressional generic ballot. Their lead in the new one that dropped this morning is … 49/42. If Trump’s polling doesn’t rebound, Democrats could control all of government next year with nothing stopping Clinton’s agenda except Chuck Schumer’s willingness to protect the Republican minority’s ability to filibuster in the Senate. The party could see a bloodbath from both sides in November in which Trumpers stay home out of disgust for Ryan et al. abandoning Trump while swing voters, disgusted by Trump, turn against the GOP anyway.