As Donald Trump sinks in the polls, the pressure on major Republican figures to support him grows. Yes, a bevy of former Republican officials emerged from the shadows on Thursday to declare that they would not support Donald Trump. But they’re former Republican officials. Elected Republicans are feeling the heat, and responding accordingly.
And it’s a sad spectacle.
On Saturday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), playing the good soldier for his party, will campaign alongside the flailing Trump in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. They’ll be joined by Governor Scott Walker as well. Ryan wasn’t interested in endorsing Trump early on – he called Trump’s comments on a judge of Mexican descent “textbook” racism. And Trump, of course, bashed Ryan heavily months ago when it appeared that Ryan might hold out before endorsing him; his quasi-surrogates at Breitbart News attempted to push a primary effort against Ryan, before Trump endorsed Ryan late. Now Ryan will stand awkwardly alongside Trump mouthing platitudes about his “Better Way” agenda before Trump strides to the podium and unleashes both barrels of overblown shtick.
But the potential images of a chastened Ryan gradually edging away from Trump aren’t the most pathetic of the day. Those belong to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). It wasn’t sufficient for Cruz to belatedly endorse Trump. No, Cruz must be made to atone. And atone he did, by phonebanking for Trump:
Ted Cruz didn't have much luck getting live human on line while making calls at Rep HQ's in FTW today, left this voicemail a few times. pic.twitter.com/rYxZ7Aabg0— G.J. McCarthy (@gjmccarthy) October 5, 2016
This is like watching video of a small child realizing his parents will one day die.
But that’s this election cycle.
So much for the notion that the “establishment” hates Trump. They’re all campaigning for him.
Hand it to Reince Priebus – since Trump’s nomination, he’s done a marvelous job of pressuring dissenters into supporting Trump. He’s still loading them from the lifeboats onto the Titanic, even before knowing whether Trump will hit another iceberg in the second presidential debate, wrecking him completely.
And to be fair to Priebus, that’s his job.
But it does show the vindictive nature of the party: if elected officials won’t stand alongside Trump, they must be made to pay the price. Never mind that Trump has spent his career giving money to Democrats; never mind that Trump ritually humiliates those who oppose him. All must commit seppuku for the Dear Leader.
Except that they don’t really have to. Paul Ryan isn’t going to lose his job if he doesn’t do a rally with Trump. Senators in swing states have endorsed Trump but remained out of arm’s reach, separating from him in public – and they’re outperforming Trump by leaps and bounds.
So why would figures like Ryan and Cruz start publicly campaigning for Trump now? Because both have 2020 notions. Both think that they’ll appease Republican donors if they stump for Trump. But that’s shortsighted. If Trump is truly as toxic as the polls suggest, they’re trading donor love for future political viability -- and many of those same donors will be more worried about the political stain of Trumpism in 2020 than they are about whether candidates like Cruz and Ryan played at loyalism. Paul Ryan isn’t going to have any trouble finding people to give him cash in 2020. But he may find it hard to disassociate from Trump after the media trot out pictures of him hugging the man in the waning days of the 2016 campaign.