“A House Divided Cannot Stand”
By: Meredith Kelly
Paul Ryan spent the last week jumping through hoops to avoid endorsing Donald Trump – despite having publicly and frequently promised to back the nominee – starting with a much-hyped CNN interview and culminating in yesterday’s summit with Trump, in which the two got cozier, but Ryan still withheld an official endorsement. Ryan has put himself in a very difficult, frustrating position, not to mention that he and his team is seemingly quite distraught over the self-inflicted distraction from their floor proceedings this week.
All of this commotion begs the question: what is Paul Ryan actually after, and what has he achieved? After all, as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy put it: “a House divided cannot stand.”
Worsened Division in Republican Conference: Based on the reactions from House Republicans this week (below), Ryan has only succeeded in further dividing the House Republican conference, hanging certain vulnerable House Republicans out to dry, and fracturing the Republican Party even more than Trump already has. Ryan’s delay in getting on the Trump Train has only earned him a one-way ticket toward Boehner town with the House Freedom Caucus.
Donald Trump Still Defines House Republicans: In presidential years, the top of the ticket always defines down-ballot races, and that will be particularly true this cycle, given Donald Trump’s propensity to be provocative and offensive on a daily basis. Trump now defines everything for House Republicans, and almost everyone accepts that reality, except Paul Ryan.
Not Protecting Vulnerable House Republicans: In the midst of the hoopla, NRCC Chairman Greg Walden bit the bullet and endorsed his party’s controversial frontrunner. Given that Walden’s primary charge is protecting House Republicans up for reelection, is Paul Ryan looking out for his vulnerable Members, as some would have had you believe last week, or is Paul Ryan just looking out for … Paul Ryan?
“We all know that Paul Ryan is just delaying the inevitable, because the Trump Ticket is here to stay. Donald Trump is going to hurt Republicans downballot whether Paul Ryan endorses Trump today, tomorrow or a month from now, and no amount of political gamesmanship or linguistic gymnastics will change that. In fact, all Ryan accomplished this week was to worsen the predicament he and his vulnerable incumbents are in,” said Meredith Kelly of the DCCC.
The fractured House Republican conference:
CNN: Headline: “House GOP warns Ryan to back Trump.”
CNN: House Republicans Are “Warning [Ryan’s] Resistance Could Lead To The Party Fracturing Rather Than Uniting If He Withholds His Endorsement.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that he is supporting Donald Trump, and he hopes the speaker and other Republicans can back him too. “I’d like the party unified,” the California Republican said. “A House divided cannot stand. I’ve watched the last eight years, and we don’t need another four of that.”
Rep. Raul Labrador: “A lot of people that are voting for Donald Trump are totally disaffected with what we’re doing in Washington D.C., and he (Ryan) almost kind of slapped them in the face when he said what he did,” said Labrador, who endorsed Ted Cruz but says he will vote for Trump now that Cruz is out of the race.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland: “I honestly don’t understand what Paul’s thinking — I don’t get it,” said Westmoreland, who is retiring after this year. “I try not to give advice to the speaker, but I think it just really brought about, in my opinion, even more confusion to this thing.”
Rep. Dennis Ross: “Trust me, I haven’t been on the Donald Trump bandwagon, but I will support him, and I disagree with Ryan’s comment,” Ross said. “I think it’s time we unite (and) … extend an olive branch and start working this out.”
Rep. Mick Mulvaney: “Paul doesn’t want to be an issue; we need to beat Hillary Clinton – that’s the issue here,” said South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a leader in the House Freedom Caucus. “Any high ranking Republican – whether Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus or Jeb Bush – that says they’re not supporting nominee? They have some hard questions to answer about why they’re a Republican.”
Rep. Mark Amodei: “Well it sure doesn’t make it look like we’re all on the same page, does it?” Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, said of Ryan’s public stand. “What’s the matter with saying, ‘I disagree with him on this and that but we’re all wearing the same jersey. So guess what? We want to win the game, and we go have a fight in the locker room.'” Asked if Ryan’s comments bothered him, Amodei said: “Yes, it does. I’m trying to figure out what the upside is.”
Rep. Kevin Cramer: Should the two remain at odds, “I think the consequences would be pretty severe, frankly,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), one of a handful of early Trump endorsers in the House. “I think they’d be more severe for the institution of the House than it would be for Donald Trump.” . . . “We wouldn’t want to add more chaos to the chaos that would already exist,” Cramer said. “But the problem I would see with [an extended Trump-Ryan split] would be a lot of members of the conference would be obviously fractured — further fractured than we already are.”
Rep. Chris Collins: While both men could benefit from an alliance, several House members said Wednesday that they believe party unity is critical ahead of the convention. “No ifs, ands or buts,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), another early Trump endorser, “the party must be united to focus on beating Hillary Clinton.”
Rep. Lou Barletta: “The risk of not getting behind the nominee is that the American people will feel what they’re already saying which is that Washington doesn’t get it.”
Rep. Dave Brat: Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said he would have liked Ryan to have issued “a stronger statement” in support of Trump after clearing the primary field last week. “The people just spoke,” he said. “You need to listen to the people and learn, what are the folks saying to us?”
Rep. Tom Cole: “Paul Ryan is very principled, but he’s also very professional and pragmatic, and he knows that a big part of his job, the most important part of his job, is leading us and helping us retain our majority,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “I don’t see how being at odds with your nominee helps you achieve that objective. So I think, in the end, they’ll find common ground.”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais: “Donald Trump is our nominee, and I feel like we all need to get together to support him and we can work on policy going forward,” said Representative Scott DesJarlais, Republican of Tennessee, who attended the meeting. “That’s the message we shared with the speaker.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions: And Sessions was critical of Ryan’s surprise comments last week saying the speaker wasn’t yet ready to fully endorse Trump as the party’s nominee, calling the speaker’s surprising comments a “mistake.” “He calls on people every day to follow the Republican leader in the House, and he’s the highest-ranking, some say, Republican in the land,” Sessions said. “The American people have voted substantially for a candidate who has a real chance of being the next president, and I think he should be supportive.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe: “I didn’t really appreciate his comments,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. “They have to establish a workable relationship, and I think they will, but that’s not a good way to start.”
William J. Bennett: “It’s not the time to be out there demanding all of these things, trying to get Trump to suddenly become Reagan,” said William J. Bennett, a Ryan mentor and prominent conservative commentator. “Now is the time to surround him with good people and work with him at the convention.”