Paul Ryan is not stupid. The Republican speaker of the House can see the writing on the wall, and it is ominous.
With less than 30 days before the election, the Republican nominee for president is on life support, a not-disastrous debate performance momentarily saving Donald Trump from the release of an otherwise fatal recording, in which he suggests he has sexually assaulted women.
Ryan knows it’s only a matter of time before more of these damaging revelations leave the candidate brain-dead, with no hope of resuscitation.
What many of us have warned of for months — that Trump was both unelectable and uniquely bad for conservatism — has just been perfectly evidenced in the span of four days.
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted after the release of the tape, Hillary Clinton’s lead is now 11 points. Trump has suffered the defection of numerous high-profile Republican supporters, including Sen. John McCain and Condoleezza Rice.
Conservatives are also mourning the loss of a favorite argument. Where Republicans used to insist (or pretend, depending on how you look at it) that they had the moral high ground, Trump’s supporters are redefining that adage, claiming at least he’s not as bad as Democrats like Bill Clinton, or simply shrugging it off and saying that this is how men talk.
All of this is why Ryan called up House Republicans on Monday and told them he would no longer defend the nominee, nor campaign for him. Instead, he’ll devote all his energy toward protecting the House and Senate.
And so, after insisting for months that he doesn’t need establishment Republicans to win, Trump is now shifting blame in a perfectly Trumpian fashion, suggesting if he loses, it will be Ryan’s fault. On Tuesday morning, he tweeted, “Desite (sic) winning the second debate in a landslide (every poll)” — that’s a lie, by the way; he lost every real poll of the debate — “it is hard to do well when Paul Ryan and others give zero support.”
What Ryan knows is that every day Trump is imperiling Republicans in the House and Senate, and if enough voters decide to vote Democratic down the ballot because of Trump’s ineptitude and depravity, Republicans will lose their majorities.
This is more than just a point of pride. One major argument used by Republicans and Trump supporters to justify a vote for Trump is that the next president will get to appoint two to four Supreme Court justices.
Trump has said he’ll appoint strict constitutionalists in the model of Justice Antonin Scalia. Running mate Mike Pence even promised Trump would nominate justices so conservative, they would overturn Roe vs. Wade.
But it’s this very argument that makes protecting the House and Senate majorities more important than putting Trump in the White House. He won’t get anyone he wants on the court if, thanks to him, Democrats control Congress. In fact, he won’t get much of anything done.
But there’s another reason Ryan is likely concerned about November. It’s one he might not publicly acknowledge, but, knowing him, I imagine it’s crossed his mind more than once.
A Republican majority wouldn’t just be a crucial check on a Hillary Clinton administration. It would be a crucial check on a Donald Trump administration.
Ryan has every reason to believe that if elected, Trump will require significant reining in by the legislative branch. For one, he could revert back to the liberal positions he held before calling himself a Republican. More realistically, he could govern as a centrist, abandoning some of the core conservative policies he promised voters he’d back.
Or he could govern as the authoritarian he’s often run as, abusing executive power to implement his wildly unconstitutional proposals, skirting Congress and the will of the people and taking unprecedented liberties. Whichever of these presidents shows up, a Republican Congress will be necessary to keep him in line — and the country out of trouble with our allies and enemies alike.
Paul Ryan is smart. He’s doing what he knows is best for Republicans, Congress, and, ultimately, the country. Unlike Donald Trump.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
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