“Trump Could Probably Care Less”: Does Party Unity Really Matter? Not To Donald Trump
The Washington press corps descended on Republican National Committee headquarters on Thursday morning in great multitudes. They hoped only to catch a glimpse of Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan as they entered and exited the building for a meeting aimed at fostering that elusive state of grace known as “unity.” The reporters may not have witnessed any real news, but they were treated to the entertaining spectacle of a guy in a giant papier-mache Trump head dueling for mindspace with a Trump supporter blowing a shofar, so at least it was festive.
For all the assembled cameras, you’d think the election hinged on the outcome of this meeting, or at least on the broader question of whether the Republican Party can unify around its regrettable nominee. Just a few days before, however, Trump had suggested that unity is overrated. “Does the party have to be together? Does it have to be unified?” he asked George Stephanopoulos. “No, I don’t think so. I think it would be better if it were unified. I think it would be, uh, there would be something good about it. But I don’t think it actually has to be unified in the traditionally sense.”
And maybe Trump is right, even if less than entirely articulate. After all, when we talk about party unity for the election, we usually aren’t talking about the voters, whose unity is genuinely important. Instead, we’re talking about whether party figures and partisan pundits are all singing from the same hymnal. But as it happens, we’re in an age of near-unanimous party unity among voters — in 2012, Barack Obama got the votes of 92 percent of Democrats, while Mitt Romney was backed by 93 percent of Republicans. An inability to persuade nearly all Republican voters is just one of the things that could doom Trump. But how many voters actually care whether and when Paul Ryan endorses Trump, a question that has the D.C. press corps on the edge of their seats?
My guess is, very few. Yes, endorsements can be important signals, and if lots of Republican officeholders don’t endorse Trump, it could remind GOP voters that he may not truly be one of them. But it isn’t like those voters aren’t going to have enough information to make a decision by the time we get to November without getting their marching orders from Paul Ryan. Whether Republican elected officials get behind Trump is a problem for them much more than it’s a problem for Trump.
And it is certainly a problem for them. That’s why so many Republican senators up for reelection have been hemming and hawing about whether they’ll actually endorse Trump, with most settling for saying, “I’ll support the nominee of my party” without allowing his name to pass their lips. They don’t want to alienate Trump supporters, but they also don’t want Trump’s stench to settle on them. This is particularly true of those running in states like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, where Trump is likely to lose.
But Trump himself probably couldn’t care less whether, say, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) supports him. He’ll win or lose New Hampshire on his own merits (or lack thereof), and what she has to say about it will change few minds. There may be some voters who don’t quite know yet what they think about Donald Trump and might be influenced by an endorsement from a politician they admire, but by November there won’t be too many of them.
That’s the position Paul Ryan says he’s in right now: He’s not quite sure what to make of this Trump fellow, and would like to learn more about him before coming to a decision on his endorsement. Ryan is acting like he’s holding a pledge of eternal love and loyalty, and he doesn’t want to give it away in haste. But I suspect that what he’s really concerned with is his carefully cultivated image among the D.C. press corps.
Having worked so hard (and with so much success) to convince reporters that he’s a thoughtful, serious wonk, it wouldn’t do to jump behind a buffoon like Trump too quickly. So he has to be seen agonizing over the decision, torn between loyalty to his party and a deep concern for both civility and the conservative policy positions which Trump can’t be trusted to uphold. “It’s no secret that Donald Trump and I have had our differences,” Ryan told reporters after their get-together. “The question is what is it that we need to do to unify the Republican Party and all strains of conservative wings of the party. It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discuss the core principles that tie us together.”
Mission accomplished: Ryan reminded everyone that he and Trump have “differences,” but also that he’s a party man who wants what’s best for the GOP. Then when November comes and Trump loses, Ryan will have made sure everyone already knows that he never liked him in the first place. At which point it’s on to 2020 with Ryan’s reputation intact. Unity is all well and good, but not if it leaves you damaged when the time comes to fulfill your own ambitions.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, May 13, 2016