The Great Paul Ryan Whisper

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

If timing is everything in politics, then Paul Ryan had a very, very bad day last Thursday as he endorsed — sort of — Donald Trump.

Ryan’s editorial in his hometown Janesville Gazette came on the same day as a Mother Jones report that a Trump delegate suggested that current political leaders may need to be “killed”; as a Timothy O’Brien article in Bloomberg Review reporting on the massive ethical conflicts of interest that a Trump White House would entail; and as an AP report that Trump University employees were instructed to demand a warrant before cooperating with law enforcement.

So the timing was a bit off. But will it ever be on? Virtually every passing day brings fresh stories about Trump, from his criticizing a Republican governor in her home state to his claiming that a “Mexican” (actually, born in Indiana) judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased against him, then doubling down on his claim that Curiel should recuse himself because of his ethnicity.

Last Wednesday’s revelations also included stories of Trump University salespeople encouraging single parents to max out credit cards to pay for Trump U. tuition and claim that the sales person had found “an answer to their problems” (which of course involved giving money to Trump) and tales of “mentorship” that fizzled out once the large checks cleared. Surely even just one story — that of an Army reservist who claims she was fired from Trump U for taking Reserve duty — should have pushed Ryan to call the paper and yell, “Stop the presses!” just like in the movies. He did not.

But placing the endorsement in a hometown newspaper, a quaint relic of the nineteenth century, speaks volumes as to the real reason: the fact that Ryan is facing an unexpectedly close primary contest this year. He clearly wanted to whisper, not shout from the rooftops, about Donald Trump. And he presumably did not want to face cameras in Wisconsin or Washington on his endorsement, or worse, have to answer questions about it. To his credit, Ryan kept the emphasis in the editorial on the House Republicans’ policy agenda, mentioning Trump’s (supposed) agreement with it only in passing. But, as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out, nowhere in the editorial was the word “endorse” even mentioned.

This, too, speaks volumes, as it does not say what cannot be said: that Trump is a man of sterling character, broad experience, and deep knowledge of policy who is ready to assume the office of President of the United States and the enormous responsibilities it entails. Ryan cannot say those things because, as he knows full well, none of them are true. Perhaps it is what caused such heartburn that he publicly “un-endorsed” his party’s presumptive nominee before he said he’d vote for him. So now he falls back on the House Republicans’ policy agenda, writing that, “Donald Trump can help us make it a reality.” Yes, and so can everyone who votes for a Republican House this fall, but that’s not the same as an endorsement for President. It is merely more tiptoes on the tightrope on which Ryan is walking.

Of course, this is not the first endorsement tinged with double meanings. Back in the 1920s, Harvard University President A. Lawrence Lowell is said to have cordially despised Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. So the story goes that when Lowell was finally cajoled to give Lodge an honorary degree, Lowell wrote “years of useful public service yet await you” in the citation. That must have stung.

Ryan’s equivalent (“Donald Trump can help us make it a reality”) should be read in the same light. Indeed Trump can make the Republican policy agenda a reality — by getting out of the way. Ryan doesn’t truly buy the Trump U hucksterism of his campaign, and neither should we. The country needs a conservative alternative candidate, and in light of David French’s Sunday announcement declining to run, we need it desperately, now.

Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a national media and messaging firm based in Florida.