Paul Ryan has little choice but to endorse Donald Trump … sooner rather than later. To do otherwise probably would cost him Speakership of the House, and might end his political career much too soon.
Furthermore, his lack of support would risk him being listed in history as one of the architects of an irrevocably divided Republican Party blamed for another horrendous defeat, with the possibility of creating a permanent third party. You might think that’s a bit hysterical; that endorsements or lack of them don’t mean that much. That is often the case. But not when the refusal of support comes from the person who is up next after the vice president in the succession to the Oval Office. Ryan is the highest Republican official in the nation.
It is one thing for the two former Bush presidents — George Herbert Walker and George W. — to make it clear they would be unavailable for the Republican Convention in Cleveland, or for the 2012 GOP nominee — Mitt Romney — to disavow Trump’s expected nomination. It is quite another for Ryan to do so. Denying support to the party’s presumptive nominee by him would be unthinkable.
That’s why the two — Trump and Ryan — will meet this week to come to some kind of an accommodation over direction of the party. The urgency to settle this in Trump’s favor is palpable. Too long a delay would cast doubt on the sincerity of a Ryan pledge of support. It would be like Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, when asked why then Vice President Richard Nixon, should be president. Eisenhower replied that if given a few days, he would come up with an answer. The remark played a part in Nixon’s defeat.
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Few people understand the perils of this more than the 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole. The 92 year-old former Kansas senator and Republican majority leader endorsed Trump on Friday, stating what seems obvious — the only way to defeat Hillary Clinton (the expected Democratic nominee) is with a unified party. Dole, a war hero and a highly respected elder statesman, carries as much weight in the endorsement game as anyone except perhaps Ryan.
Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quick to throw his unqualified support to Trump despite his earlier opposition to the New York billionaire’s candidacy. This, of course, is just another sign that the Republican leadership at most levels — derisively called the “establishment” by conservative detractors — can be expected to fall in line with few exceptions. Even some of Trump’s main detractors among his fellow candidates in the primaries have been quick to reverse their positions.
Former candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy and surgeon Ben Carson endorsed Trump almost immediately after giving up and dropping out. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also has swung to Trump since ending his campaign. Another early dropout — former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — is on board with Trump. The last two Trump challengers, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have yet to follow suit.
Is the war over? Hardly.
A number of those pledging support to the party’s “nominee” are doing so without naming Trump and with their fingers firmly pinching their noses. That includes John McCain, another former GOP nominee. But two important figures, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both once among the army of candidates seeking this year’s brass ring, have made it clear at this time they want nothing to do with Trump.
Top analysts say that many of the naysayers are maneuvering to bring Trump more closely to their positions on a variety of issues, to moderate his stances that have offended so many voting blocs including women and Hispanics. Trump may be in the process of calming down his rhetoric, not an unusual action after winning the nomination and heading for the general election. Some observers believe, however, that calming his approach too much might be a mistake, disengaging the angry primary voters who brought him to this point.
One thing seems apparent. If the Republicans are to defeat the Democratic candidate, even one with negatives as high as Hillary Clinton’s, they must come together quickly. Ryan knows this and can be expected to end any sense of detachment in the matter quickly. Otherwise, the fortunes of the Republican Party and, for that matter, the two-party system as we know it, are at grave risk.
Dan Thomasson is a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.