Why is House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) stiff-arming Donald Trump? In an interview on CNN last week, Ryan said he was not ready to support Trump “at this point.” Ryan’s pause suggests a thoughtfulness that is anathema to the entire Trump phenomenon. Perhaps Ryan believes that if he endorses Trump, he is in some way obliged to defend and promote the GOP nominee in an honest, comprehensible way. Ryan knows that in politics, you have to at least start from an honest place. That causes more problems for some than for others.
So how are other Republicans handling Trump’s ascension to the nomination? So far, I see three distinct groups of Trump supporters.
First, there are those who wholeheartedly adopt Trump’s approach. They can defend the indefensible and deny the obvious. They are comfortable calling black white, they dismiss his vulgarities as everyday speech and they somehow view his insults as witty. I put CNN’s Jeff Lord in this category. If these people can sleep peacefully at night and look their kids in the eye while saying they are 100 percent behind Trump, then more power to them.
Second, there are the articulate, thoughtful Republican leaders, ranging from former House speaker Newt Gingrich to Larry Kudlow, who have taken what Trump has said during the primary process and distilled it down to some coherent policy themes and positions. But that distillation is their own, not Trump’s. If Trump talked about economics the way Kudlow claims Trump talks about economics, it would be both enlightening and powerful. If Trump faced political reality or had a governing plan the way Gingrich says Trump does, a lot of Republicans would take notice. Gingrich and Kudlow are part of a group that is trying to launch Trump by giving his campaign context and purpose, but Trump’s own antics, behavior and inarticulate, incomprehensible positions keep there from being any sustained lift.
Third, there are those who are resigned to supporting Trump strictly because Trump is the person in the race who is not Hillary Clinton. This tunnel vision allows them to see only the danger of a Clinton presidency, and for them, that is that — there is no need to probe any further. Trump is not their first choice, or even necessarily their second, third or fourth. But for some good, conservative Republicans — such Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — anything is better than Clinton in the White House.
Many Republicans are still trying to decide what group they fall into — or if they will continue to be against Trump no matter whom he is running against.
Ryan was right to take pause and not automatically give Trump his blessing. The speaker is smart to be somewhat removed from the party politics of the hour. It shows he is taking his job as a leader of the Republican Party, and as the person second in line to the presidency, very seriously. I suspect he will eventually endorse Trump, but only after a personal, thoughtful, deliberative and honest process. I am eager to hear what conclusion he reaches and his explanation for why it is best for our country.