With the way things had been developing in the Republican presidential contest in recent weeks, lndiana’s primary on May 3 seemed like it might be the last real chance for those hoping to prevent a Trump nomination to turn things around. Before the vote, most polls suggested that Trump was in the lead, possibly by a rather wide margin, over Senator Cruz, who really needed to do well to revive his campaign’s hopes, so the situation did not look promising. By that Tuesday afternoon, I realized that Indiana felt very much like a repeat of Florida to me. Back then, Marco Rubio, my candidate at the time, desperately needed to win in Florida to maintain any chance in the race, but polling, overall, indicated that Trump would almost certainly prevail. As a supporter, while I definitely hoped that the polls had been wrong or that something would change voters’ minds at the last minute, I still expected the worst. Of course, Trump did win easily in Florida, and Senator Rubio left the race that night. And in Indiana, alas, there was no big, last-minute upset victory for Ted Cruz. In fact, there were even more similarities to the Florida situation than I would have thought, because Ted Cruz unexpectedly suspended his campaign when the Indiana results came in. With John Kasich doing the same the next day, Donald Trump was the only candidate left standing and the “presumptive nominee.” Even though it most likely wouldn’t have affected the eventual outcome, in my view, it would have been preferable if someone had stayed in the race at least until Trump actually earned 1237 delegates. You never know if something drastic might happen to alter the situation (such as Trump testing out his hypothesis that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing supporters,) but, in any case, people in the remaining states who do not support Trump would have at least had an active candidate for whom they could vote. I can understand, though, that it would be tough to keep campaigning, dealing with negative media stories, and facing attacks from Trump and his supporters if you don’t really see any chance of success to make it seem worthwhile. Ted Cruz was a very worthy candidate and went through some tough times during this race, and I wish him well as he continues to serve in the Senate.
It’s unfortunate, but the voters of America keep finding ways to disappoint me this year. A few weeks ago, after Ted Cruz decisively won the Wisconsin primary, I mentioned that I was concerned about polls showing people really didn’t want to have a contested convention and that a majority of respondents thought the nominee should be the candidate with the most delegates, even if it was not a majority. Well, it would seem that the views reflected in these polls were held by quite a few people and did indeed harm the anti-Trump movement. While one would have hoped that Trump’s continued obnoxious behavior and outrageous statements would have motivated more people to seek to stop him and to choose another candidate, it seems that the opposite happened instead. Voters apparently heard Trump’s whining and complaining about the rules and delegate selection processes and sided with him -- deciding that somehow Ted Cruz’ knowledge of the rules and success at getting friendly delegates elected was somehow a bad thing or even cheating. As for Trump’s insistence that he was essentially entitled to the nomination, even if he didn’t get the required delegate majority, because he would have the highest number, and his related assertions that Cruz was not a viable candidate once he no longer had a shot at reaching 1237 delegates? Well, despite the long-standing rules, voters seem to have agreed with Trump’s claims and/or not wanted to deal with the potential trouble he and his spokespeople “suggested” might happen at the convention and elsewhere if Trump were denied the nomination. They voted for Trump in increasing numbers in the last several states, not only in the Northeastern contests which he was always expected to win, but also in the heartland state of Indiana, which finally snuffed out any hope of a better GOP nominee. (The “momentum” generated by Trump’s big win in New York -- his liberal home state -- and the media’s heavy promotion of that notion probably contributed quite a bit to this trend.) Sigh...
Then, of course, as soon as Donald Trump became the presumed nominee, more and more Republicans, including former critics, started announcing their support for Trump, with varying levels of enthusiasm or reluctance. I will have more to say about this unfortunate development at another time, but for now, I’d like to focus on one prominent party leader who did not immediately join the stampede to back Trump -- Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.
(On a side note, I found it interesting that Paul Ryan expressed some surprise that we had arrived at the “presumptive nominee” point of the race so quickly. He had thought that the competition would have lasted at least through the June primaries, if not all the way to the convention. Until quite recently, many thought that would be the case, but, alas, some voters were extremely eager to nominate Trump.)
Especially considering Paul Ryan’s previous attempts to avoid weighing in much on the primary race and his prominent roles as House Speaker and chairman of the upcoming convention, I was a little surprised when I first learned that Ryan had taken the stance that he was not currently on board with announcing support for Donald Trump. I was glad to hear it, though, because it was important for someone to make the point that Trump has not been representing conservative or Republican ideas and principles and that the party’s nominee should be expected to do so. Ryan did say, though, that he wants to support the nominee but isn’t there yet, indicating that he most likely will eventually back Trump. Still, the predictable response from Trump and some of his fans was to overreact and attack Ryan, with Sarah Palin even suggesting that this would end Ryan’s career as she vowed to help his challenger win this year’s primary race for his House seat. Many people seem to believe that Paul Ryan (and presumably every Republican) owes blind, unquestioning, immediate allegiance to the new supposed “leader” or standard-bearer -- isn’t that really the sort of principle-ignoring action the so-called “anti-establishment” folks were supposed to be angry about?? I would think that the criticism directed at Ryan, along with some comments from Trump and his camp asserting that he doesn’t need (or even want) all Republicans to unify behind him in order to win, might actually make it more difficult for Ryan to shift his position on Trump while giving a rational explanation. Trump so far doesn’t seem interested in running, as Ryan hoped, a “campaign Republicans can be proud of” -- unless shifting more positions to the left, belittling anyone who doesn’t bow down to him, and suggesting that the entire nation should follow his financial example by failing to honor our debts makes GOP hearts swell with pride these days. Paul Ryan is in a tough situation, but I applaud him for at least temporarily stepping back from the wave of misguided “party loyalty” sweeping so many Republicans into the Trump camp. Not that he asked, of course, but it would be fine with this constituent if Ryan did not “come around” to expressing support for Trump. I’m sure that Ryan has plenty of Congressional business and elections to work on and discuss should he choose to avoid further comment about the presidential contest.
Of course, there’s not much chance of that happening, and efforts to try to bridge the gap between Trump and Ryan have already begun. From what I’ve read and heard about the meeting the two men had this past week, I’m a little concerned about the way this discussion process may play out and the effects that it might have. One account said that Ryan had explained basic principles of conservatism and their importance and that Trump was receptive to listening. Once again, I was struck by the absurdity of the predicament we are now in. Donald Trump is set to be the presidential nominee of the Republican party and has been running for the office for almost a year. Yet, he still needs elementary lessons in conservative beliefs like limited government, separation of powers, the right to life, etc.? Heaven help us all...
That notion is bad enough, but other matters related to the conversation seem to come from an alternate reality. The joint statement issued by Trump and Ryan afterward is one example. It sounded more Trumpy than Ryan-like, containing generalities that minimized divisions within the party rather than presenting any evidence of resolutions regarding matters of substance. When the statement and RNC chairman Reince Priebus referred to the “few differences” between Trump and Ryan, I’d expect that many of us simply didn’t believe the phrase was accurate. But, if people did believe it were true, I think it would more likely make them think less of Ryan than reassure them about Trump! To hear the Speaker himself talking about how positive it is that Trump has brought in so many new voters to the party, claiming that Trump had a “good personality” in their meeting, and saying that he believes he and Trump share some core conservative principles (concerning the Constitution, executive overreach, etc.) around which the party can unify this fall was rather painful. The “new voters” issue is a common Trump talking point and may not necessarily be a good thing if it means people who’ve tended to vote for Democrats are opting this time for someone who’s running as a Republican because his views are really more those of a liberal Democrat. And, while Trump may have managed to be nice to Ryan for a short time (when he wanted something from him), we’ve seen plenty of evidence over the years to show us the truly unpleasant nature of Trump’s insulting, bullying, and self-centered personality. As for the matters of principle listed, the statements that Trump has made during the campaign about things he would intend to do have made it clear that he is not particularly concerned about the Constitution and the limits it places on executive powers. He might complain about some things Obama has done, but he seems to envision an extremely powerful role for himself should he become President. Ryan has stated that the party needs to have real, not fake, unity, so I’m concerned that he seems to be saying things about Trump that are not true, no matter how much Ryan would like them to be. I certainly don’t think we need the ultimate result of Ryan’s substance-related reservations about Trump to be a final stamp of approval “verifying” to the public that Trump adheres to conservative ideals that he in truth does not. If Paul Ryan wants to give his support to Trump, he can and should find reasons for doing so that do not mislead the voters and further increase the likelihood of Trump’s nomination distorting or destroying the conservative movement and its reputation, results I am confident the Speaker wishes to avoid.
Now, Paul Ryan did say that this meeting was only the first step in a process to work towards true party unity, and he doesn’t seem at this point to be in any rush to say that all of his concerns have been alleviated so that he can fully support Trump. I appreciate that, as it helps to -- for now -- maintain at least a little distance between Trump and the Republican party as a whole, so that members, particularly conservatives, can still reasonably point out that they do not agree with all of Trump’s comments and positions. Again, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if Speaker Ryan’s unification process remained ongoing all the way through the election. However, I suppose that, all too soon, most remaining resistance among Republican officials to the not-so-charming reality show host will fade away, and the Trumpian takeover of the party will be complete. At least until then, I’d like to offer my support and encouragement to Speaker Ryan for his efforts to keep reminding everyone about the things for which the Republican party and conservatism have traditionally stood -- ideas and beliefs that are far more important than big rallies, good poll numbers, or high TV ratings.