Paul Ryan is the Speaker of the House. He is the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country, third in line for the Presidency. He occupies that position because he is the only unifying figure in the Republican Party today. When former Speaker John Boehner was forced to step down, Paul Ryan said "no" to the job. He was cajoled into taking the position because he was, quite literally, the only person who could get 218 votes in the House of Representatives. The "establishment" wing of the party trusts him to govern intelligently, meaning not to breach the debt ceiling or do anything comparably stupid. The "tea party" wing trusts him as a true believer-- aside from "repealing Obamacare," the only policy that the party can truly rally around these days is informally known as "the Paul Ryan budget," since it codifies the party's future goals on fiscal policy. Paul Ryan is the Republican Party's golden boy.
And he still can't endorse the party's presidential nominee, Tony Clifton, I mean, Donald Trump.
The reason should be obvious. Ryan has his detractors, but few would question his intelligence. Ryan sees Donald Trump as a fraud, an unprincipled megalomaniac, a grossly uninformed and incompetent caricature of the worst stereotypes that Democrats have of Republicans, and a potential electoral disaster capable of dragging down an entire party in an election that Republicans should probably win, based on the fact that one party rarely wins three presidential elections in a row.
Like I said, Paul Ryan is a smart guy. It is worth taking some time to note, then, how weird it is for the true leader of his party to refuse, repeatedly and pointedly, to endorse his party's presidential nominee.
In 1980, Ted Kennedy lost a brutal primary challenge to Jimmy Carter, and never got on board with the Carter re-nomination. Carter then lost to Reagan. In social science terms, there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. Did the party fail to unify because the underlying economic circumstances that handed the election to Reagan kept the party in tatters, or did the tattered party lead to Carter's loss? Or did they have nothing to do with each other? That's hard to say, but it is worth pointing out that the Democrats dissatisfied with Carter were both dissatisfied with the state of the country and the fact that their chosen candidate didn't win.
In 2008, we had the "PUMAs," or, "party unity, my ass" crowd. These were the Hillary supporters who claimed they could never get on board with Obama. What motivated them? Well, there was this lady...
It's hard to say how representative she was of the PUMAs (most of whom did get on board with Obama in the end), but regardless, the PUMAs were angry because their chosen candidate didn't win.
Back to Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan didn't have a chosen candidate, and most of the neverTrumpers weren't as viscerally attached to a chosen candidate as the PUMA in the video above. The neverTrumpers just hate Donald Trump and can't bring themselves to vote for somebody who is basically Tony Clifton. This is weird, and we need to take some time to appreciate it.
The irony is that nobody has more to lose by preventing the Republicans from unifying around Trump. If Republican voters are either demoralized enough to abstain, or motivated to vote for a third party candidate, Hillary wins. Paul Ryan then needs to raise the debt ceiling. Hillary will give him nothing in exchange for it. Paul Ryan will cave. Tea partiers will revolt. Ryan will lose their support, and with it, the speakership. It will be John Boehner all over again.
What's his plan? I have some thoughts, which I will save for a future post.
So keep reading! And spread the word, if you enjoy reading this little blog. The more readers I get, the more willing I am to write.