Last week, Paul Ryan dropped the other shoe by issuing his expected endorsement of Donald Trump. It had been clear since Ryan and Trump met on Capitol Hill last month that an endorsement of some sort would be forthcoming, and the only real questions were how long it would take and how tepid it would be. As it turned out, the endorsement arrived in the form of a tweet and an Op-ed column in Ryan’s hometown newspaper. Short of writing the endorsement on the back of an envelope, stuffing it in a bottle, and casting the bottle into the Potomac, it could hardly have been more low key.
The Washington Post greeted Ryan’s announcement with a rather harsh assessment:
As Donald Trump was building a campaign on lies, bigotry, insults, fearmongering and unreason, a few Republican leaders of apparent principle offered some resistance. Foremost among them was House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). In March, Mr. Ryan insisted that “all of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and decency” and that “we shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm.”
On Thursday Mr. Ryan capitulated to ugliness. It was a sad day for the speaker, for his party and for all Americans who hoped that some Republican leaders would have the fortitude to put principle over partisanship, job security or the forlorn fantasy that Mr. Trump will advance a traditional GOP agenda.
We agree with the Post that it was a sad day, but we do not share the paper’s criticism of Ryan for doing what he, and we, believed he simply could not avoid doing. As the Post saw it:
Following Mr. Ryan’s endorsement, some insisted that the speaker had little choice. This is false. “My dad used to say, ‘If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem,’ ” Mr. Ryan said in March. When he has a comparable conversation with his children, how will Mr. Ryan explain the decision he made in this campaign?
The Post, however, did not pause to explain its reasoning. For our part, we believe that the strength of Trump’s performance in the primaries (however depressing and mystifying that strength may have been) and his subsequent acceptance within Republican ranks would have made opposition futile. Indeed, the only concrete result of such a quixotic gesture would likely have been removal of Ryan from his position as Speaker. In a May 12 editorial, defending the incipient detente between Trump and Ryan, the Wall Street Journal, argued that critics needed to consider the situation if Trump should win:
Mr. Ryan would then be crucial to steering a Trump agenda in a constructive direction, as well as providing a check on the New Yorker’s worst instincts on trade or foreign policy. Would the never-Trumpers prefer a GOP House run by Mr. Ryan, or by one of the early Trump supporters like California’s Duncan Hunter?
Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the symbolic importance of Ryan’s grudging endorsement. Kathleen Parker, a Republican columnist who writes in the Washington Post, could scarcely contain herself. Ms. Parker was perhaps a tad hyperbolic, but not much:
With the surrender of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) to the Trump crusade, it is fair to wonder what the Republican Party stands for.
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Of all the carefully examined flaws in Trump’s persona, the most concerning and potentially dangerous is his immaturity.
Like a child used to getting his way, he shouts, pokes, bullies, berates, pouts and parades. And thanks to him, the GOP’s big tent has become a tough-kid’s idea of a party — peopled with hot dames, swindlers, gamblers, bosses, bouncers and thugs — and some, I assume, are good people.
At least now, Ronald Reagan can finally get some rest. The Republican Party has left him.
When Donald Trump’s nomination had apparently become a fait accompli, it seemed to give new impetus to interest in finding a candidate to run on an independent ticket. The difficulty was that among the usual suspects no one was willing to step forward into that sacrificial role. It then appeared that there was an alternative readily at hand: Gary Johnson, nominee of the Libertarian party. Johnson is a former two-term Governor of New Mexico who was the Libertarian Party’s candidate in 2012 and has now been re-nominated for 2016.
In 2012, Johnson’s candidacy had no visible impact: he received 0.99% of the popular vote, a total of 1,275,971 votes. This year, however, has the potential to be quite different, with the nominees of the major parties, Trump and (presumably) Clinton having unfavorable ratings at unprecedented levels. Seeing an opportunity, Johnson recruited as a running mate the former Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld. Weld is a far more substantial candidate than Johnson’s choice for Vice-President in 2012 (a California Judge, James Gray). The initial challenge for Johnson will be to reach the 15% rating in polls that appears to be the entry level for participation in debates with Trump and Clinton. Both Johnson and Weld, it may be said, have far more solid credentials than Trump as a Republican, and obviously more experience in governing than either Trump or Clinton. Whether that is sufficient to gain them serious consideration remains to be seen.
In terms of positions, Johnson takes the traditional Republican approach of fiscal conservatism, but takes “liberal” positions on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana), as well as immigration, that are an anathema to many in the GOP. On foreign policy, he appears to take something of the neo-isolationist view that appears to have gained surprising strength among Republicans. We will have more to say about Messrs. Johnson and Weld, and their positions on the issues if their campaign gains traction. In the meantime, we would join Jennifer Rubin in urging that the media, having over-dosed on Trump, should now take Johnson and Weld seriously and give them the coverage they deserve.
Finally, the desperation of the #NeverTrump movement was reflected when Bill Kristol, a leader of that movement, floated the name of David French, a lawyer and writer for National Review. To the extent that Mr. French’s name has elicited any response, it has been largely in the category of “Huh?” and “Who?” Mr. French is in fact a substantial citizen who might be a plausible nominee for an appellate judgeship, but it is hard to imagine much beyond that. While French has no doubt been flattered by Kristol’s attentions, we suspect he is too intelligent to act on them
The California primary on June 7 may settle definitively whether Hillary Clinton is The opponent for Donald Trump or whether more is to be heard from Bernie Sanders. Whatever the California results, there is still no reason to doubt that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. (If, of course the FBI’s investigation should come to a seriously negative conclusion, all bets are off, but we doubt that is going to happen.)
Clinton took time off from her California campaign against Sanders to deliver a blistering attack on Donald Trump and, in particular, Trump’s many glaring deficiencies in the area of foreign policy. Clinton’s attack on Trump has been well reported in the media, but readers who wish to read it in its entirety may find it here. We did read it and found that we were in total agreement with Ms. Clinton’s assessment and the language she employed to convey it. Trump is unfit to be Commander in Chief. Period.
The media gave far less attention to Clinton’s own thoughts on foreign policy, and perhaps understandably so. In rhetoric and substance they offered a centrist view that provided a reassuring contrast with Trump, but were otherwise brief and unconvincing. For example, Clinton on terrorism and ISIS:
[W]e need a real plan for confronting terrorists.
As we saw six months ago in San Bernardino, the threat is real and urgent. Over the past year, I’ve laid out my plans for defeating ISIS.
We need to take out their strongholds in Iraq and Syria by intensifying the air campaign and stepping up our support for Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground. We need to keep pursuing diplomacy to end Syria’s civil war and close Iraq’s sectarian divide, because those conflicts are keeping ISIS alive. We need to lash up with our allies, and ensure our intelligence services are working hand-in-hand to dismantle the global network that supplies money, arms, propaganda and fighters to the terrorists. We need to win the battle in cyberspace.
And of course we need to strengthen our defenses here at home.
That – in a nutshell – is my plan for defeating ISIS.
The most interesting aspect of Clinton’s comments may be the implicit admission that at the present time we lack a “real plan.” But Clinton does not begin to fill that gap, suggesting that we continue to do what we are doing now, but do it better in some undefined ways. There is need for not only a critique of the Obama (and Clinton) record on foreign policy but, even more urgentyly. for a thoughtful debate as to plausible alternatives going forward. Unfortunately, the Trump candidacy has rendered such a debate, grounded in knowledge and nuance, all but impossible.