Dear Republican Elites: You Can’t Have It Both Ways on Trump

From left: Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
From left: Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)

There has been increasing talk among pundits about the possibility of a GOP delegate revolt, in which the delegates to the Republican National Convention would refuse to nominate Trump in favor of . . . well, somebody else. It’s unclear whether this hypothetical candidate would be someone the voters have already rejected or someone who didn’t even run. Though, of course, according to the people advocating such a move, the votes never actually mattered. Or, rather, the votes mattered until they disagreed with them. After all, they seemed plenty invested in the primary process while it was going on.

To read some of these reports, it would appear as if the delegates were on the verge of a rebellion, needing only some prodding in order to throw out the entire nomination process. The problem is that there’s very little clarity on who exactly who these angry delegates are. Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate leading this movement, claims the support of 400 delegates — a whopping 837 delegates short of the majority required to approve any proposed rule change. Even if every non-Trump delegate, every unbound delegate, and one-in-ten bound Trump delegates were to join their cause, they would still be 75 votes short of a majority. To push a rule change through, 1,237 delegates need to be convinced that stealing the nomination from the clear winner is the right thing to do. Nevertheless, the Trump campaign is building a team in preparation for the possible floor fight.

Some of the voices calling for delegate revolt are unsurprising, such as Bill Kristol and his “impressive” non-candidate David French. But, just this week, several top Republicans have added their voices to the cause. Scott Walker said Tuesday that the delegates “should be able to vote the way they see fit.” And Paul Ryan, a self-proclaimed standard-bearer of conservatism, refused to condemn the movement, stating: “It’s not my job to tell delegates what to do.”

For the House Speaker, this is merely the latest example of bet-hedging when it comes to Trump. Despite branding himself as a man of principle, it is difficult to discern what principle leads to Ryan’s blatant attempts to have it both ways when it comes to the presumptive Republican nominee. He announces he will vote for Trump, which presumably means he wants Trump to be the next president. Yet he has no plans to campaign for the man, only to continue to distance himself from Trump when he feels it necessary. He claims a “responsibility” to “not try and disunify our party, and disrespect the voters,” and yet he cannot call out delegates for trying to do both. But, of course, he vows to call out Trump at any opportunity. Asked if his conscience is clear regarding his endorsement of Trump, Ryan said that it was, for the reason that “because of the role I have [as the highest elected Republican official], I believe I have an obligation” not to lead a split in the party.

Either Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders want Trump to be the next president, or they do not. Refusing to campaign for him, vowing only to condemn him, giving implicit approval to those who seek to depose him, but still endorsing him and claiming to be “confident he would help us … improve people’s lives” is neither principled nor is it leadership. Speaker Ryan and other GOP elite should have the courage to fight for whatever it is they believe, whether they want Trump to win or not. If they can’t do that, they should at least stop pretending to be leaders of principle.

Danny Cannon works for the American Principles Project.