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Paul Ryan’s Donald Trump Problem Isn’t Going Anywhere

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Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has finally settled on a strategy for dealing with Donald Trump: Ignore the GOP nominee and just hope he goes away after an embarrassing defeat on Nov. 8.

The problem for Ryan is that Trump, his supporters and his policies do not seem to be going anywhere, even if he loses spectacularly.

Ryan’s favorability has fallen 28 points over the past two weeks, fueled by Trump turning his attention to the speaker and criticizing him for sowing division in the party, seemingly without any sense of irony. 

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A Bloomberg poll conducted Oct. 14-17 showed that 51 percent of Republicans think the Trump’s view of what the GOP stands for better matches theirs, compared to 33 percent who said Ryan’s perspective more closely matched theirs.

Ryan has set himself up for a confrontation with Trump after Election Day. “Come Nov. 9, there will be a fight for who we are, what we stand for,” one top GOP aidetold The Huffington Post this month.

But, if there is a fight for the Republican Party, there is no evidence to suggest Republicans will side with Ryan. And there’s no indication of Trump is going anywhere.

Following the final debate, in which Trump raised the specter of continuing his fight even after losing, one senior GOP leadership aide told HuffPost on Thursday that Ryan’s sudden drop in favorability probably wouldn’t be a lasting dip. “It shouldn’t shock anyone that his numbers took a hit immediately after Trump went on a tirade, especially when the speaker’s been quiet, keeping his head down stumping for our guys,” the aide said.

A fair point, but Ryan’s fall from grace may be much larger than a single poll.

One thing you can say about Trump is that he’s demonstrated Republican leaders were probably a bit ahead of the GOP base on issues like trade, immigration, even entitlement reform. Ryan has publicly taken positions contrary to Trump on these very issues.

A September poll showed 85 percent of Republicans agreeing with Trump’s belief that free trade has cost more jobs than it’s created. And an April poll found 63 percent of Republicans support building a wall between the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border, in line with Trump’s pledge.  

Ryan is on the other side of those issues and will have to square his positions with those of his party at some point, and it’s unclear how he does that when Republicans are so divided.

On top of the ideological issues, Ryan has some practical problems following the election. If you believe Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House GOP is going to be in single digits “either way” ― meaning Ryan will have lost more than 20 seats and, potentially, the Republican majority. 

Of course, things might not be that bad for Republicans. They could walk away from the year of Trump losing only a dozen or so House seats. But almost no one expects Republicans to gain seats, or really even keep their losses in the single digits. 

If Democratic gains are closer to Pelosi’s projection, it will present Ryan with considerable vote problems on his reelection to be speaker, let alone every piece of legislation that comes before the House. Suddenly, Ryan would have to turn to Democrats for votes to pass legislation, which could further damage his standing with Republicans.

“If we lose 15, it’ll be tough for Paul Ryan,” one GOP member told HuffPost this month. That means, as other members have told HuffPost, Ryan already has a speaker reelection problem. And that’s before Trump starts whipping up the GOP base. Already, we see some conservatives in the House looking apt to use Ryan’sless-than-enthusiastic support of Trump as a way to potentially remove him. 

“If Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump, then I’m not for Paul Ryan,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said in a Twitter post last week.

Ryan also has to navigate a December spending deal that’s likely to anger many other Republicans and test the promises of regular order that he made last year when he took the speakership.

And these are just the known variables. If Trump truly does contest that the election was rigged by virtue of the fact that he lost, Ryan’s first confrontation may be tamping down that revolt.

So the speaker’s problems with Trump aren’t going anywhere. By committing to Trump, Ryan and the Republican Party more broadly has solidified its reputation as an anti-immigrant party ― a reputation the GOP desperately looked to shake after the 2012 election, recognizing that winning over immigrants was necessary to winning national elections. And Ryan has imperiled his own reputation as a serious-minded policy wonk by continuing to support Trump through every outrage.

Ryan may be able to reintroduce some distance between himself and Trump after the election (no one really believes he’s on board with the nominee), but some voters will ― and should ― always remember that the speaker didn’t speak out when it really mattered.

On the other side, Ryan has clearly angered Trump voters, some of whom might never return to the Republican Party.

The grand joke of Trump’s candidacy is that prominent GOP members didn’t speak out against the party’s nominee in the beginning, nor bar him from running as a Republican, because they feared he would run as an independent and split the party. Now, after tarnishing the Grand Old Party as an association that accepts misogyny and racism, Trump may split the GOP anyway. 

And Ryan ignoring Trump will seem even more impossible.

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