The rift within the Republican Party grew even wider on May 8 when presumed GOP nominee Donald Trump threatened to block House Speaker Paul Ryan from serving as the chairman of the GOP convention after the speaker said he was "not ready" to support Trump.
And Ryan is totally right to do so. Trump's brand of conservatism is seen as fundamentally breaking with established Republican Party orthodoxy, and his presidential campaign has been one of the most vicious in American history.
The idea that Ryan would just kneel and swear fealty to Donald Trump, a man who ran a successful fear-and-anger based presidential campaign and bucked just about every implicit rule of style and decorum in politics, was always a truly laughable proposition.
Speaker Ryan most likely has a host of issues on his mind when he considers the prospect of a Trump presidency. Ryan has spent his career pursuing initiatives like entitlement cuts, immigration reform and has praised U.S. trade agreements with other countries, while Trump has spent his comparatively short career insisting he will not cut Social Security or Medicare, wants to build a border wall and has denounced U.S. trade agreements in the strongest possible terms.
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While it may be unprecedented in recent history for a speaker of the House to not endorse his own party's nominee, it's also unprecedented for the presidential candidate of a major party to hold ideological positions which are completely at odds with the traditional ideological positions of that party. It is not that Trump holds unconventional positions for a Republican, it is that he is holding positions that Republicans normally oppose forcefully but he is doing so from the vantage point of the brash, fearless billionaire, an archetype that GOP voters have always seen as worthy of praise.
Ryan must be considering every possible way a Trump candidacy could go wrong. He could get destroyed in the general election and lose the Senate -- at the very least -- for the Republicans. He could also lose the race narrowly and do better than John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012, at which point the current rift over what the Republican Party should be would simply continue. He could potentially unite some parts of the party in time for the election, if only to stop Hillary Clinton, only to see the party disintegrate again when he loses.
Or Trump could somehow win the election by gaining the support of swing voters and become a total disaster as president, particularly if he has the backing of a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate -- a prospect that is nowhere near as clear with Trump as it is with even former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for example. If this occurs, it may do lasting damage to the Republican Party; it's also by far the least likely scenario.
In any case, Ryan is almost certainly thinking about what could go wrong in a Trump candidacy and how it could affect the party. Blaming him for not kissing Trump's feet is simply blaming him for not trading his party away outright.