There was a period of about two weeks where it seemed as though the Republican establishment was warming up to the thought of Donald Trump. Or, if not that, they were at least expressing a willingness to make it work if that was what the voters decided. Caught in an impossible dilemma where they are going to rankle a certain percentage of Republican voters no matter what they do, they appeared to be leaning away from convention shenanigans.
But that has once again shifted. Now, party leaders are beginning to talk in a serious way about the possibility of pushing House Speaker Paul Ryan into the nominee position.
“If we don’t have a nominee who can win on the first ballot, I’m for none of the above,” said former House Speaker John Boehner last month. “I’m for Paul Ryan to be our nominee.”
On C-SPAN, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said of Ryan: “Look, he’s already been vetted, he’s been on a national ticket, millions of people have already voted for him in that regard, we know how he performs. And frankly, he does represent the kind of vision and values, as a Republican, you would want to put forward.”
Ryan, denouncing a well-funded campaign to draft him into the race last month, said that he did not intend to have anything at all to do with the 2016 election from a personal standpoint. But, as many observers have pointed out, he also repeatedly said that he would not accept the House speakership under any circumstances. And since many of Ryan’s friends thought he was reluctant because he believed it would draw the curtains on his presidential aspirations, there’s reason to believe he could change his mind.
Make no mistake about it: the Republican Party does not have to accept Trump as the nominee. And make no further mistake: they don’t want to. If it becomes a consensus belief inside the party that they will lose in November with Trump or with someone else, they will choose someone else. The only thing keeping them from throwing Trump over for Ryan or Romney or someone else is the possibility that the real estate mogul could actually ride his grassroots momentum all the way to the White House.
Trump’s not making it easy on them, especially over the past week. Between the Ted Cruz “wife” feud, the arrest of his campaign manager, and his comments on punishing women for getting an abortion, Trump has shown no interest in calming his campaign. These episodes are taking a toll on his support among women, and Republicans know they cannot win a general election with a candidate that has alienated half the country.
The problem, of course, is that the establishment hates Ted Cruz nearly as much as Trump. If they’re going to thwart the will of the voters, they will want to at least put up someone they like. One of their own, in other words. Paul Ryan fits the bill, but will he really commit himself to what is almost certainly a suicide mission?
In an election cycle that has been filled with unexpected twists, the best drama may still be to come.