Paul Ryan’s half-baked Hamlet act over whether or not to endorse Donald Trump exposes the utter hypocrisy and phoniness of “Big Tent” Republicans. For years, they lectured “rigid” conservatives on the need to hold their noses and support philosophically irregular candidates. Overrated know-it-alls like Karl Rove would foist a Richard Riordan on rank-and-file Republicans and then browbeat them if they dissented. But now it is obvious for all to see that the “Big Tent” Republicans never really wanted a Big Tent. They wanted a country club and saw themselves as its permanent membership committee.
As long as Democrats masquerading as Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger kissed their rings, they could join. I don’t recall any of the “Never Trump” crowd lifting a finger to help Tom McClintock, the Ted Cruz of California politics, beat back Schwarzenegger’s ludicrous candidacy. What I recall is a lot of empty and cocky chatter from the Bushies about how an “exciting” and atypical Republican like Schwarzenegger was going to “grow” the party. Those who correctly predicted his destruction of the party were blown off.
Even earlier, Richard Riordan, the flaky former liberal “Republican” mayor of Los Angeles, ran for governor at the eager direction of the Bushies. Riordan supported abortion rights, gay marriage, tax hikes, climate-change activism, and pretty much every PC position you could possibly imagine. Yet, according to Time, “President Bush and his political guru Karl Rove were big Riordan backers, and the former Los Angeles mayor came back into politics at Bush’s urging.”
Now we’re told that George W. Bush is sitting out the upcoming convention in Cleveland and Jeb Bush can’t bring himself to vote for Trump. He sniffs that Trump isn’t sufficiently conservative for his taste. Who are they kidding? They aren’t rejecting Trump on philosophical grounds; they are blocking him on blatantly personal ones. After all, the much-advertised struggles of Paul Ryan’s conscience didn’t stop him from running with a RINO who had voted for Paul Tsongas and donated to Planned Parenthood.
As for their anguish about Trump as a “loose cannon,” that anxiety is also of recent vintage. The ornery Bob Dole and the nutty John McCain somehow didn’t trigger it. The country club Republicans told conservatives to lose their nerdy primness and vote for them.
It was amusing to hear Paul Ryan pompously invoke the “party of Jack Kemp,” as if Kemp were a philosophically and personally impeccable conservative before whose memory all must genuflect. Kemp was a flake too. He ran with Bob Dole in 1996 on a wobbly platform of moderate Republicanism. Who cares if Trump isn’t living up to the standards of Jack Kemp? They weren’t that high to begin with. Moreover, Kemp was a loud and tiresome proponent of the “Big Tent” and frequently scolded conservatives for imposing purity tests on Republican candidates. Now his acolytes tell us that the Big Tent isn’t quite big enough for Trump.
Paul Ryan seems to think that he is God’s gift to the political world and that conservatives should wait with bated breath until his “comfort” level rises. Most of them appear to be shrugging. If anything, the hypocritical boycotting of Trump by the Ryans, Bushes, and Roves enhances Trump’s crossover appeal with independents and working-class Dems. The more that he is hated down at the GOP yacht club, the more he appears as a regular guy in the eyes of voters. Meanwhile, the Tea Party Republicans interpret the boycotting as a sign that Trump is too politically incorrect for the effete GOP elite and cleave to him even more tightly.
In the end, such resistance may prove a political boon to Trump and complicate Hillary’s customary anti-Republican demagoguery. There is a big difference between resistance from grass-roots conservatives and resistance from self-anointed spokesmen for conservatives. If Trump retains the former, he can lose the latter and still win.
Also, it wouldn’t take much for him to point out that the “conservative movement” opposing him isn’t very conservative anymore. Many of his fiercest critics, talking so windily these days about the importance of conservative purity and high morals, were not so long ago shilling for gay marriage and an open mind toward Bruce Jenner.
How can you take the “conservative case” for sitting out the election seriously when it is coming from elastic figures like Ryan who think it is “unconstitutional” to put a pause on immigration from radical Islamic countries? Under that test, Ryan would have had to oppose the Founding Fathers for president. They would have been astonished to learn that their Constitution was a red carpet for a religion determined to burn it. By attacking Trump from the PC left, Ryan just makes his squeamishness look even wimpier.
Ryan’s hesitation represents one of the last gasps of the old-guard moderate Republicans. Had he run against Trump in the primaries, he would have gone down to embarrassing defeat. It took Trump to expose these “inclusive” Republicans as entitled and exclusive — an insular cabal presiding not over a populist big tent but a cliquish and fast-fading country club.
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