Let’s look back at Paul Ryan’s ghastly pivot on Donald Trump this week, since he’s made it quite plain he has no stomach for it himself now.
The House Speaker is widely respected throughout the nation’s Capital, even where his politics are strongly disagreed with. That’s why his unfettered embrace of Trump has lost him so much hard won respect in Washington and nationally this week.
For many commentators Ryan’s hearty endorsement was not simply nauseating, it was enraging - a bridge too far.
Bluntly admitting this week that Trump’s claim that Judge Gonzalo Curiel was unable to perform his job because of his Mexican heritage was “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan nevertheless added that he believes Trump should be president.
In years to come psychologists may cite Ryan’s example as “the textbook definition of cognitive dissonance.”
On Thursday MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, mystified by Ryan’s ambiguity, asked him him how he could scold Trump for his racist comment and yet endorse him for president in the next breath?
“It’s really clear with me we have one of two choices,” Ryan replied, “Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”
Trump may say racist things, but he’s on our side saying racist things, Ryan might have said.
Senator Lindsey Graham put it more bluntly. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.” But for Paul Ryan, that time clearly hasn’t come yet.
Ryan has calculated that he has little wiggle room. He has the House majority to protect after all. Admitting on ABC that Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel “get in the way” of his party's efforts to give voters a “clear and compelling choice” this November, Ryan took a Hail Mary pass.
“Hopefully, this won't continue,” Ryan told the press. “Hopefully, the campaign will move in a better direction so that it can be one that we can all be proud of.”
Ryan’s obviously looking at Trump’s epic margin of victory this week - Trump won more votes than any Republican who ever ran to be the party’s presidential pick - and tailoring his conscience to the latest poll numbers.
But standing tall with a man you have just blasted for his racist comments, in the name of “party unity” at the expense of national unity makes for a poor show.
By 2020, when Ryan is widely expected to make a run for president himself, his decision to stand back now and let this unprecedented racist rhetoric define both his party and this election will be seen for the long term, festering disaster it really is.
Has Ryan’s decision to hold his tongue really unified the obviously cratering GOP? And at what cost to his country, his reputation and his own political ambitions will it come?