Yet another high-ranking politician has sold his integrity. Or was it, perhaps, only an illusion of integrity to begin with? Paul Ryan, current Speaker of the House of Representatives, officially endorsed Donald Trump last week. This came as no real surprise, but it must be a disappointment to those who still believed Ryan had enough integrity to stand up for his beliefs, to stand against the racist rhetoric that has become the cornerstone of the Trump campaign. Ryan is in good company, following the examples set by Chris Christie, Ben Carson and many others who once swore “Never Trump!”
The question burning in my mind is “why?” What has been promised … or threatened? In the case of Ryan, most of the pundits speculate that he was given a promise of support for his political agenda in exchange for his endorsement. There are, however, a few things wrong with this scenario. First, Ryan is not a stupid man, and he surely understands that a promise made by Trump is as empty as a dry well. Trump conveniently says one thing today, then tomorrow, with no compunction, denies he ever said it, even when the evidence is placed in front of him. In the past, Trump has spoken against almost everything on Ryan’s agenda, so there is no reason to assume that he would support it a year from now. Second, in endorsing Trump, Ryan has undoubtedly further alienated democrats, and likely some republicans in both the Senate and the House, almost ensuring that his agenda will never reach the desk of the president. Ryan’s effectiveness in the House is nothing to write home about. During his 13 years in the House, Ryan was the primary sponsor of more than 70 bills or amendments, of which only two were enacted into law. One, passed in July 2000, renamed a post office in Ryan’s district; the other, passed in December 2008, lowered the excise tax on arrow shafts. Pretty important legislation, right?
I think there must have been more either promised or threatened than mere support for an agenda. Trump’s usual way of ‘handling’ his naysayers is to threaten, and I think that was likely the case with Ryan. In March, Trump said of Ryan: “I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him. And if I don’t, he’s going to have to pay a big price.” To me, this sounds like a threat. It reeks of the ‘bull-in-a-china-shop’ rhetoric that we have come to expect of Trump, but it certainly does not sound like the words of a man who is prepared to work toward building a relationship of mutual trust.
The GOP has been scrambling for months in an attempt to ‘unify the party’. Trump has been a particularly divisive candidate, doing far more to divide than to conquer, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. I suspect the GOP leaders, Reince Priebus and company, are using every means possible, promises and threats included, to coerce party members to come out in support of Trump in order to ‘unify’ the party, not only for the presidency, but perhaps more importantly for the senate and house seats that will be on the ballot in November. I strongly suspect that it is a matter of ‘too little, too late’ for either the presidency or the down ballot.
Those who have switched gears, such as Ryan, and endorsed Trump despite their better judgement, have done so half-heartedly, and it shows. Look at Governor Christie’s face a day or two after his endorsement, and look at Paul Ryan’s face as he announces that he will endorse Trump. They look physically ill, a result, no doubt, of having sacrificed whatever integrity and dignity they had, whatever honour they spent their lifetimes building.
To his credit, Paul Ryan made a brief speech this morning, condemning rather than condoning Trump’s bombastic attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who will preside in the case against Trump University. “I disavow those comments. It’s absolutely unacceptable.” He said he has discussed the tone of the campaign with Trump, but he refused to answer most other questions by the press. When asked if he now regrets his endorsement of Trump, his reply was “I regret those comments he made.” Perhaps he still retains a shred of human decency after all, but eventually, I think we can count on Trump to erase even that.
Just as I was putting the final touches on this post, a banner floated across my screen with the following: “Breaking News! Sen. Mark Kirk, one of the most endangered Republican senators up for reelection this fall, said Tuesday he will not back Donald Trump for president.” Finally, there may be hope that not all republicans will fall in with the party line! But I shall withhold making that assumption until later … we shall see …