May 13, 2016
The Donald Trump, Paul Ryan thing is supposedly bad for the GOP. We’ve covered all the reasons. If Trump can’t get enough Republicans on board, he has math issues. If Ryan caves he looks weak. If he goes to war, he might destroy the party.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for Republicans. But this is also a problem for Hillary Clinton. How so? Because she still doesn’t know who she’s running against.
Yes, we have a presumptive GOP nominee. No, Ted Cruz is not going to find a way to take it away from him. However, we don’t know what form he’s going to take. Will Trump ultimately get the nod from Ryan, have the speaker play convention chair and sing kumbaya in his acceptance speech?
Or will Ryan continue to stall, as Trump and his allies ratchet up the pressure on him. At that point, does The Donald blow things up, telling Mr. Ryan to defecate or abandon the porcelain ASAP?
Most of the House leadership has endorsed Trump. Perhaps Ryan is forced to follow. Perhaps he stands his ground and becomes some sort of hero martyr to the National Review crowd.
Ryan could break with Trump, allowing him to run as an Independent while officially the GOP candidate. Ryan could guardedly embrace Trump turning him into closer to a conventional nominee.
I could go on with various permutations for hours. Maybe they reach an accommodation and then it falls apart. And gets put back together. Before coming undone again. We simply don’t know.
Ryan is in a historically unique position and Trump is historically unique. Many Democratic strategists thought Cruz would be an easier matchup than Trump for just this reason. One was an unlikeable conservative, the other a total wild card.
Though they figured there was more chance of Trump losing badly, they also gave him more of a chance to pull an upset. That was before Trump v. Ryan was a thing.
How exactly should Hillary prepare for this? Remember, we aren’t talking about an instinctive candidate who can extemporaneously shift gears. We’re looking at someone who needs to plan a lane change miles before the off ramp appears.
She both can’t move that quickly and looks awfully transparent when she moves slowly. Trump is busy changing (if we’re being overly generous, modifying) his positions on everything from taxes to Muslims entering the country.
If Trump and Ryan decide to play together, he might move to the right. Or perhaps he’d try to use Ryan as cover for being even less of a traditional conservative. He can do whatever he wants because he isn’t constrained by traditional rules.
He has zero shame. It’s all a big negotiation. Dealing an awkward candidate with her own unification problems such an uncertain hand is sure to cause problems. Recent polling indicates she’s trusted even less than Trump, so if both candidates prove more malleable than anything we’ve ever seen, it will harm her more.
Not knowing if she’s running against Donald Trump, outsider and hijacker of the GOP apparatus, or Republican Nominee Trump, or the two of them as a tag team, means she’s left to run ads reminding us how dangerous he is.
For the past 10 days or so, Team Clinton has treated us to a steady barrage of reminders we may not want to trust Trump with the nuclear codes. We’ve seen some greatest hits compilations detailing many of his more offensive statements.
That’s all well and good, but Trump is a known entity. She’s attempting to give him the Barry Goldwater treatment, something that worked very well for LBJ a mere 52 years ago.
Goldwater was not as well known as Trump. The primary process was very different. He didn’t have the chance to make his case to voters everywhere for a full year ahead of the convention. He had zero ability to go over or through the media to speak directly to voters.
Trump is a master and in 1964, TV networks were just gaining the ability to do live remotes. Previously, if you wanted to show video from Atlanta on the evening news from New York, you needed to put the film on a plane by noon.
Well into the 1970s, reporters produced a piece in the field and then went to a local affiliate to edit and upload to the network via satellite. If LBJ and his ad team wanted to define Goldwater, there was little he could do about it.
That’s beyond the advantage Trump has in having appeared in living rooms for over a decade on the Apprentice and being a household name since the 80s. You can argue the version Trump is marketing won’t appeal to enough voters to win, but that’s on him, not a result of Hillary driving opinion.
LBJ was trusted in 1964. He’d won the confidence of the country after handling the JFK assassination aftermath. His approval ratings were sky high. Hillary is about as popular and less trusted than Johnson was when he dropped out of the 1968 race because he’d lost the country.
This isn’t to say Trump is a sure thing. Far from it. He’s improved in recent polls, but the big news is he’s about even in a few swing state polls where he has to win. He’s getting closer in national polls, not leading, let alone by a big margin.
But friction with Ryan is good for Trump with the sort of non/less affiliated voters who would prefer Bernie to Trump, but Trump to Hillary. Not the Berners, but older white guys who aren’t particularly progressive.
This would increase the difference between how Hillary and Bernie poll against Trump. Bernie has consistently performed better. But there’s a difference between Hillary leading by 8 and Bernie by 10, which nobody cares about, and Hillary being even while Bernie is up 9.
That wouldn’t cost Hillary the nomination, but it would complicate things for her. Remember, Trump = Chaos. For everyone. Not just Ryan. Not just Reince Preibus. Not just vulnerable GOP senators.