It isn’t? Go read the Ben Sasse post from yesterday if you haven’t yet. I’d wait for a poll or two about Trump’s plan to come out before declaring what the party believes now. If anything, Ryan’s begging the question. Are we a party? The line between Trump’s wing and everyone else gets a little brighter every day.
I don’t think this aren’t-you-ashamed rhetorical tactic works either, although I realize Ryan has no choice. The media’s been on ritual-denunciation watch for the past 20 hours, to the point where some of them are actually timing 2016 candidates to see how long it takes them to say something disapproving of Trump. If Ryan doesn’t show disgust then he’ll become the story, as the media would rather score a point on the new Republican Speaker than try again with Teflon Don. My pal Karl thinks I’m missing the point here: A strong thumbs down on camera from someone like Ryan who’s well known and well liked by all Republicans to the left of the tea party is a way to shape some of those polls that are inevitably coming next week. I think that’s the intent, yes, but Ryan’s point is already familiar to GOPers after hearing it from George Bush for eight years and from myriad others, the latest being Ben Sasse, over the previous seven. Who’s still waiting to form an opinion on whether Muslims as a group are sufficiently dangerous that they should be banned entirely from entering the country as presumptive terrorists one and all?
My point is that there are smarter ways to counter Trump’s proposal than telling someone who thinks it’s a fine idea that they’re a cretin. That’s half the reason Trump is as popular as he is — too many members of the political class fall easily into lecture mode, never more so than when discussing immigration, when pressed on an idea that populists like. It’s Obama’s single most egregious rhetorical mistake, even beyond his fondness for straw men. The man can. not. resist. lecturing about “who we are” when an opportunity presents itself, no matter how much popular support there is in the other direction. (E.g., barring Syrian refugees.) The supposition when a politician starts talking that way is that they have more of a right to define what America is than the voting public does, which is exactly the type of elite hauteur that keeps Trumpmania going. As another Twitter pal put it:
And I don't mean this as a slur: Trump supporters are really just *more* sick of bullshit out of DC bullshit than they care about Trump (2)
— PoliMath (@politicalmath) December 8, 2015
The lectures about “who we are” are a perfect example of that bullsh*t. I don’t mean to pick on Ryan in saying that; his intentions are good here and, like I said, his role requires him to speak up. But this is a less effective way to try to beat Trump’s “Muslim ban” than attacking it on the merits would be, a point also made by Erick Erickson at Red State today. You’re better off staying cool and picking the idea apart on substance: It’s a dumb way to screen for terrorists, it’ll alienate Muslims who haven’t been radicalized, it’ll damage cooperation with Middle Eastern intelligence services, and so on. Trump clearly hasn’t given five minutes of thought to the nuts and bolts of it. It’s something he squirted out like a wet fart because he thought the smell might mask Ted Cruz’s gains in Iowa for a news cycle or two. If Ryan and other Republicans are going to spend time at a podium talking about Trump, they should at least note that his calculus is always political, never policy-minded. There are a lot of Republican populists out there who desperately want better immigration enforcement and they’re clinging to a guy whose brilliant plan is to deport all illegals and then let most of them back in. He’s telling people what they want to hear and then winging it when pressed on the details afterward. How he’d actually govern is a total mystery, even to him.
But then there’s a reason why you don’t often see Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio noting popular discontent with America’s lax immigration enforcement, isn’t there? They’re amnesty fans. They’re part of the problem. They helped fertilize the seed of Trumpmania. Few big-name GOPers can approach Trump’s cred for being uncompromising while also claiming a sharp enough grasp of policy to accuse him of talking out of his ass in pushing unworkable ideas. Coincidentally, the guy in the lead in Iowa right now fits the bill. If and when he finally comes after Trump, that’s how he’ll hit him — no lectures or moral chastisement, just a calm dissection of why it makes no sense to deport people whom you intend to readmit and why a worldwide ban on Muslim visitors will do more harm than good. And then Trump will respond by pointing to the 2013 shutdown and reminding Cruz that he’s been sweet on some pretty unworkable ideas in his time too. And then we’ll really have a primary.
Oh, free advice for all future Trump denouncers: You might want to mention that this guy, through his endless attention-seeking, just bailed Obama out of an awfully unpleasant news cycle filled with stories about his ineffective Oval Office speech, his refusal to plainly acknowledge “radical Islam,” his stupid drooling over gun control despite California having some of the toughest laws in the country, and so forth. Maybe Trump can wait until Obama’s on some sort of roll politically before floating his next policy air biscuit.