The New York Times reported what is supposed to be big news, Paul Ryan Won’t Defend Donald Trump, Upsetting Trump and GOP Hard-Liners. It starts with the absurd claim, “House Speaker Paul D Ryan dealt a hammer blow to Donald J Trump’s presidential candidacy Monday, dashing any remaining semblance of party unity and inviting fierce backlash from his own caucus by announcing that he would no longer defend Mr Trump’s candidacy.” How is this a hammer blow?
Is Ryan a big Trump surrogate? No. Their relationship has been, at best, strained. It took him until June to endorse Trump’s candidacy. And then Trump paid him back by waiting until August to finally endorsed Paul Ryan’s re-election. And when he did so, Paul Ryan didn’t even show up.
Paul Ryan Hasn’t Been Good for Trump
Ryan has been more well known for things like calling on Trump to release his taxes. And calling a Trump statement “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” And most recently releasing a statement saying, “I am sickened by what I heard today.”
So again: where is the hammer blow? All that has happened is that Paul Ryan isn’t going to campaign for Trump for the next four weeks. Instead, he’s going to campaign for down-ballot candidates. But you know: that’s the same thing. Trump supporters don’t want to see Ryan at Trump’s rallies anyway. I suppose that more reasonable Republicans (ones that don’t show up to Trump rallies) might see Ryan with Trump and feel more comfortable voting for him. But after last Friday’s video? And what seems likely to be more embarrassments to come? I just don’t see Trump being harmed by this. It could even help him.
Now Paul Ryan Could Help Trump
One way it could help Trump is by stopping Paul Ryan from having to respond to every new Trump outrage. This is where the “defend” comes from in the headline. So let’s suppose that the police arrest Trump when they find the skeletons of dozens of adolescent boys buried at Mar-a-Lago. Paul Ryan won’t need to demand an investigation. He won’t need to say that it’s a textbook case of pedophilic serial killing. He won’t be required to release a statement about how sickened he is. Instead, Paul Ryan can say, “I told you: I’m not defending Donald J Trump anymore!”
This whole article in The New York Times is typical of the press thinking things are important because the press thinks they are important. Paul Ryan certainly has maintained a high approval rating among Republicans. But we certainly haven’t seen any polls recently. The last one I could find was from back in July when he had an approval rating of 71 percent. But note: Donald Trump had an approval rating of 65 percent. And here’s the key: what do Republicans really know about Paul Ryan?
Ryan’s Soft Support
I think this is key. Paul Ryan knows that his support among Republicans is soft. That’s why he won’t come out and rescind his endorsement. He also knows that his grip on the House speakership is loose. According to Vox, after leaving the conference call yesterday morning where he laid out his decision, “He had to get back on the call to address accusations that he was abandoning the nominee.”
So this is not going to change things for Trump. Even with a clear commitment to Trump, I don’t think Ryan really helps. So this is really nothing to Trump.
What Paul Ryan Cares About
But it is a big deal to Ryan. In the call yesterday morning, Ryan reportedly said, “You [Republican House members] all need to do what’s best for you in your district.” That’s all that Ryan is doing. As Fortune noted, “Ryan’s message appeared to signal his disbelief in Trump’s ability to turn the campaign around with four weeks until election day.” This is all tax cuts and deregulation. If Ryan thought Trump would win, he wouldn’t have changed a thing.