The Republican Civil War

It’s here.  Paul Ryan today:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan dealt a hammer blow to Donald J. Trump’s presidential candidacy Monday, dashing any remaining semblance of party unity and inviting fierce backlash from his own caucus by announcing that he would no longer defend Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

Mr. Ryan’s stance drew an immediate rebuke from Mr. Trump, who posted on Twitter that Mr. Ryan should focus on governing instead of feuding with him.

But Mr. Ryan informed Republican lawmakers on a morning conference call that he would never again campaign alongside Mr. Trump and would dedicate himself instead to defending the party’s majority in Congress, [emphasis mine] according to five lawmakers who participated in the call and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Effectively conceding defeat for his party in the presidential race, Mr. Ryan said his most urgent task was ensuring that Hillary Clinton did not enter the White House with Democratic control of the House and Senate, two lawmakers said.

The reaction from hard-liners was swift and angry: Over the course of an hour, a stream of conservative lawmakers spoke up to urge their colleagues not to give up on Mr. Trump, and chided Mr. Ryan for surrendering prematurely in the presidential race.

The term “schadenfreude” was invented for situations like this.  Couldn’t have happened to a nicer political party :-).  Of course, even before the Trump Tapes the polls made it clear that Trump was a likely loser.  That made it all the easier for many Congressional Republicans to finally abandon him– something many of them (surely McCcain) have probably wanted to do for a long time.  This “locker room talk” finally just gave them the pretext to abandon the sinking ship.  And, of course, in this case, the more the crew jumps off, the more likely the ship is to sink.

Vox’s Andrew Prokop:

And now we’re seeing it in the wake of Sunday night’s debate, an event at which Trump served up red meat dish after red meat dish for his party’s base. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa sums up the state of play in this tweet:

In calls this morning, many Rs privately want to defect from Trump. But they say the debate gave them pause since he roused their base.

That’s the problem for these Republicans. Trump has a hard core of support that now makes up about two-thirds to three-quarters of the Republican electorate — but only one-third of the general electorate. So most of the Republican Party’s most loyal base voters (and a clear majority of its primary voters) do not look kindly on party elites who try to throw Trump under the bus.

All along, this has prevented the party from acting decisively with regards to Trump’s takeover. In the most charitable interpretation, this state of affairs ties GOP officials’ hands because they don’t want to defy the will of their party’s voters, as expressed in a democratic process. They are, after all, supposed to represent the people. Attempting to crush the Trump insurgency from the top down could just end up inflaming the anti-establishment mood even further.

The less charitable interpretation is that GOP elites are cravenly trying to protect their own careers. They fear losing in future primaries if they abandon Trump in his moment of need. They fear losing in the general election if Trump’s prospects are so poor that they significantly depress GOP base turnout. And they fear being attacked by Trump himself.

The most telling moment of the day for me was seeing a George Holding for Congress ad tonight (NC-13, seemingly safe Republican), in which, to paraphrase (oddly, cannot find anything of the ad online), the narrator says George Holding will be needed as a check on Hillary Clinton.  Whoa.  Sure, that’s been subtext in campaigns, but I sure don’t ever remember seeing that message so explicit from a member of Congress.  Many Republicans have given up on Trump (rightly) and are now desperately trying to not go down with him.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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