Ryan says he is “not ready” to formally endorse Trump’s unpopular presidential candidacy. Trump says he is “not ready” to embrace Ryan’s unpopular austerity agenda. But after speaking with Ryan, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus says the speaker is prepared to “work through” these differences in order to “get there” on an endorsement of the billionaire. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Ryan is being portrayed in much of the media as an honorable Republican who is courageously refusing to board the Trump train….Ryan’s maneuvering has very little to do with honor and courage, and very much to do with ego and political positioning.
As I noted here a little while ago, the Republican Party will not find it too difficult to absorb and assimilate Donald Trump. But to do so, it needs some cover, even if purely nominal. It would like Donald Trump to put down his megaphone and use a dog whistle instead, for instance. It would like Donald Trump to stop making it so hard for them to speak up on his behalf, a difficulty made especially galling by the knowledge these Republican folk have that in Hillary Clinton they have their dream electoral opposition: a figure universally reviled on the American Right who can be effortlessly linked with Bill Clinton, another bogeyman for the party faithful. The Republican Party knows the Clinton candidacy, that seeming inevitability, can be beaten by their tried and trusted combinations of obfuscation, sabre rattling, seemingly outward directed xenophobia, and loud, persistent, dog-whistling. Surely there is no need to pick new fights with new enemies here?
Little is required for party unity in the present situation. Trump would only need to sound ‘presidential’ on a couple of occasions, and those pronouncements would easily become the foci of attention for Republicans. They would allow Republicans to point to a ‘maturing,’ ‘evolving,’ Trump, and allow them to virtuously insist on conversations about ‘the issues.’ Such conversations are not possible when every news cycle brings further reports about acerbic Trump responses to official Republican condemnation.
So this picture that Ryan seeks to paint for us of a courageous Speaker holding the fort for technocratic conservatives against the advancing forces of an unsophisticated, nativist populism needs emendation; his desperate wails–‘A fig leaf, a fig leaf, my kingdom for a fig leaf!” indicate a wholly disparate set of desires and motivations. As Nichols notes, “ Ryan says he “wants to” back Trump and has indicated that he hopes ‘to be a part of this unifying process.'” Ryan’s ‘wants’ and ‘hopes’ are self-serving; he does not want to be deposed by Trump, to lose his political career to this unregenerate parvenu. Ryan seeks not to become politically irrelevant, to not be shoved aside by the Trump Express that has scorched a new path through the Republican marshaling yard. Because Ryan is the one who seeks to be survivor, he will grasp at any lifeline thrown to him. Perhaps this coming week’s meeting with Donald Trump will provide him with one such.