U.S. Politics

The gutlessness of Paul Ryan

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

THINK PROGRESS

When it comes to policy, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump have disagreements on key issues like entitlements and trade. Ryan has also denounced Trump’s incendiary rhetoric on numerous occasions, going so far as to call some of his comments the “textbook definition of racism.”

Nonetheless, Ryan wants to have it both ways when it comes to Trump. Ryan may speak out against him, but he has also officially endorsed him.

And now, his position on the GOP nominee has become incoherent.

In the wake of the release on Friday of a 2005 video where Trump is heard bragging about sexually assaulting women, Ryan disinvited Trump from what was to be their first joint campaign appearance the next day in Wisconsin. He released a statement saying he was “sickened” by Trump’s comments while still standing by his endorsement.

Ryan went a step further during a Monday morning news conference with House Republicans, telling members of his caucus that he will no longer defend Trump.

“The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities,” a Ryan spokesman said, according to numerous reports.

While Ryan’s position effectively concedes the presidency to Hillary Clinton, he didn’t actually rescind his endorsement of Trump.

Instead, he basically told members looking for guidance, ‘You do you.’

So Ryan continues to endorse a candidate whom he disagrees with on key issues, whom he has denounced on numerous occasions, whom he won’t appear with, and whose conduct he finds “sickening.” Why won’t he take the additional step of rescinding his endorsement?

Part of the answer is undoubtedly that Trump, who’s still his party’s nominee, remains popular among a segment of Republicans. For instance, during the Saturday event in Wisconsin where Trump was originally scheduled to appear, Ryan “was booed and heckled by Donald Trump supporters.” And Trump still has his supporters within Ryan’s caucus.

As the New York Times reports with regard to the Monday conference call:

[W]hile he did not say he was withdrawing his endorsement, some of the House members took it that way and angrily attacked him for effectively giving up on Mr. Trump.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a veteran California conservative, was particularly heated, according to House Republicans on the call. About 45 minutes into the call, Mr. Ryan had to come back on the line to clarify that he was not formally rescinding his support from Mr. Trump.

But in the wake of the publication of the shocking hot mic clip, Trump’s support appears to be tanking nationally. Ryan may have reached the conclusion his party has a better chance of retaining its congressional majorities by distancing from Trump.

In the process of trying to have it both ways, however, Ryan has arrived at a position that is even harder to figure out than where Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) was last summer. At the time, Ayotte justified her plan to vote for Trump by making a distinction between “voting” and “endorsing.”

“Everyone gets a vote, I do too,” Ayotte said on CNN in August. “And an endorsement is when you are campaigning with someone.” (Ayotte now says she’ll no longer vote for Trump.)

Ryan, who says he won’t appear with Trump but is still endorsing him, is clearly operating under a different definition of “endorsement” than Ayotte.

Another reason that Ryan may be hesitant to break with Trump once and for all is pragmatic. In the increasingly unlikely event Trump wins the presidency next month, Ryan hopes Trump will help him ram his tax-cutting, entitlement-slashing agenda through Congress. In fact, Ryan outlined his plan to do so under President Trump just last week.

Trump, for his part, predicted that Republicans who distance themselves from him will pay a price on November 8.

And hours after details of Ryan’s Monday morning conference call went public, Trump put him on blast by name.

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