Speaker Paul Ryan has backed away from his pledge to support whoever becomes the nominee, saying he's "not ready" to endorse Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Other GOP heavyweights, including the Bushes, are also not giving endorsements. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

This morning on Fox, Donald Trump professed himself “surprised” that House Speaker Paul Ryan has now said he is not yet ready to endorse the Donald. But this isn’t really surprising at all. As a new Politico piece explaining Ryan’s thinking puts it, Ryan was simply trying to bolster his House majority. Declining to embrace Trump will hopefully give House Republicans in the swing districts that will determine how large that majority is next year “a measure of cover from Trump’s unpopularity.”

But ultimately, what Ryan’s move really shows is that Republicans almost certainly won’t be able to escape the corrosive down-ticket saturation effect that Trump’s toxicity could end up having. At best they may be able to mitigate it, but such mitigating efforts could also have downsides — and therein lies the brutal dilemma Trump’s nomination looks to be inflicting on the Republican Party.

This problem is neatly captured by the fact that RNC chair Reince Priebus is offering a dramatically different take from Ryan on how down-ticket Republicans should handle Trump. In an interview yesterday, Priebus said that they should embrace Trump, because running from him will ultimately hurt them:

“You can’t do well at the bottom of the ticket if you don’t do well at the top of the ticket. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t lose at the top of the ticket and expect to do great underneath…you have to have a very competitive race at the top that’s victorious if you want to make sure that you keep as many seats as you can in the Senate and the House.”

Obviously Ryan and Priebus differ on this point because of their differing institutional roles: Ryan is protecting his majority, while Priebus is chair of the whole party. But in a way, they’re both right — and that’s exactly the problem. Ryan is right that if Republicans support Trump, they risk being associated with his reprehensible proposals and verbal outbursts. Ryan wants to protect House Republicans from Trump, because his numbers are absolutely toxic among, well, pretty much all voter groups. But Priebus is also right in saying that if Republicans distance themselves from Trump, that weakens Trump and brings down the whole ticket — potentially including, of course, them.

Ryan is effectively pleading with Trump to recognize this dilemma and is giving Trump a road map (of sorts, anyway) to help Republicans get out of it. Ryan is basically asking Trump to give him a way to support him. But it is not entirely clear what Trump would have to say in order to give Ryan the cover he needs to do that. Perhaps Trump would have to renounce his proposed Muslim ban (which Ryan, to his credit, has criticized). Perhaps it’s ideological: Trump could offer up more paeans to the magic of free markets and limited government (Ryan keeps insisting that Trump stand for “conservative principles”). Or perhaps it’s more cosmetic: he merely has to stop insulting immigrants and women.

At bottom, Trump needs to do something to make it possible for Republicans to argue that Trump has “improved,” and isn’t really the crazed, reckless, sexist, xenophobic demagogue that shouted vulgarities and gesticulated wildly at America from TV screens across the country for the last year. But as Mollie Hemingway notes, Trump faced down conservative elites and emerged victorious in the primaries, and may not see any need to make any concessions to them. Indeed, unlike Ryan, Trump may not even be capable of appreciating just how negatively the general election audience — and constituencies such as women, college educated whites, moderates, young voters, and minorities — actually view him.

And then there’s this niggling problem: Even if Trump does clean up his positions, rhetoric, and behavior, making it possible for Republicans such as Ryan to back him, there’s no telling whether he’ll have a relapse — or how bad it might prove.

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* WORLD LEADERS PANICKED ABOUT TRUMP’S RISE: The New York Times takes stock of global opinion on Trump as the presumptive GOP nominee:

From Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to the headquarters of NATO in Brussels and the vulnerable Baltic nations along Russia’s western border, officials and analysts said in interviews that they saw the success of Mr. Trump’s “America First” platform as a harbinger of pressure for allies to pay up or make trade concessions in return for military protection. In many capitals, Mr. Trump’s formal and off-the-cuff foreign policy proposals…are regarded with a mix of alarm and confusion.

But that’s a good thing, right? All these pointy-headed international bureaucrats and elites fear Trump because he’ll come in and break up their ongoing fleecing of America.

* TRUMP SHARPENS ATTACKS ON HILLARY: Reuters reports on a West Virginia rally where Trump showed he is honing his general election assault against Clinton:

The billionaire businessman criticized Clinton for the vast sums of money that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, accepted for the Clinton Foundation, which he called a “scam.”…Trump also linked her with some of her husband’s decisions when he was president in the 1990s, like the NAFTA trade deal….”We have to win the general election. We cannot take Hillary Clinton anymore. NAFTA was given to us by Clinton,” Trump said. “We can’t take any more of the Clintons.”

One imagines that Clinton will probably amplify her criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, out of a recognition that trade could be a crucial battleground in the general.

 * TRUMP SLOWLY CAVING ON SUPER PACs: Matea Gold catches the pivot:

Trump expressed little concern this week that a super PAC called Great America PAC was emerging as the vehicle of choice for wealthy Trump supporters and praised one of the group’s advisers, longtime Republican consultant Ed Rollins. “I know that people maybe like me and they form a super PAC, but I have nothing to do with it,” the candidate said…adding, “So we’ll see what happens.”

“We’ll see what happens,” alright — we’ll see Trump giving his blessing to Super PAC spending on his behalf, undercutting his own claim to being a scourge of the elites.

* A WEAK JOBS REPORT: Bummer:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 160,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.0 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Plus, the last two months were revised downward by a total of 19,000 jobs. Neil Irwin notes an uptick in wages, but a decline in labor force participation.

* SCANT EVIDENCE THAT HILLARY INTENTIONALLY BROKE CLASSIFICATION RULES: The Post scoops:

Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself….One official said prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not.

The investigation continues, but at some point in coming weeks, she may be cleared. Trump continues to cite “the emails,” and that will continue unabated, even if the probe does clear her.

* DEMS USE TRUMP AS WEAPON IN COURT FIGHT: The White House-allied Americans United for Change is out with a new web video that juxtaposes statements attesting to the judicial qualifications of Merrick Garland with statements attesting to Donald Trump’s huge deficit in qualifications for the White House.

Dems will ratchet up pressure on vulnerable Senate Republicans by arguing that they believe presumptive nominee Trump (from whom they seek distance) should pick the next justice. If that doesn’t get them to consider Garland, it might extract more political pain along the way.

* AND BEWARE THE ‘BOTH SIDES’ MEDIA SCAM: Paul Krugman points out that media figures are already finding ways to downplay the vast asymmetry, on policy realism and the dirtiness of campaign tactics, between Trump and Clinton:

Mr. Trump has proposed huge tax cuts with no plausible offsetting spending cuts, yet has also promised to pay down U.S. debt; meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton has proposed modest spending increases paid for by specific tax hikes….Mr. Trump has impugned his rivals’ manhood, called them liars and suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with J.F.K.’s killer. On her side, Mrs. Clinton has suggested that Bernie Sanders hasn’t done his homework on some policy issues. These things are not the same.

It’s hard to say whether the inevitable failure to acknowledge these vast differences will be the result of incompetence or a desire to maintain a fake sense of balance and objectivity, but either way, get ready for a lot of it.