Although the mainstream GOP’s ideology often differs from that of Donald Trump more in presentation than in substance, a number of prominent Republicans had at least initially showed a reluctance to endorse their party’s demagogic nominee and the overt bigotry that he espouses. However, most of these prominent “Never Trump-ers” quickly caved, revealing their opposition to be nothing but a cynical attempt to distance themselves from a nominee whose proto-fascism was bred by their own hateful rhetoric. Once it became clear that Trump could in fact capture the support of a wide swath of the American electorate, the titans of the GOP establishment quietly fell into line.
One man, however, seemed to stand out as an exception, continuing to insist he would not support Trump and refusing to “accept ugliness as the norm.” That man was Paul Ryan, who until yesterday had provided a hope, however faint, that the old hands of Republican Party would not accept blatant bigotry, xenophobia, and white nationalism as the price of doing business. All of that came to an end yesterday, however, as Mr. Ryan capitulated to hatred, fear, and ugliness in endorsing Mr. Trump as the party’s nominee.
The Washington Post’s editorial board ripped into Ryan today for being a coward and capitulating to the pressure posed from the insurgent Trump:
On Thursday Mr. Ryan capitulated to ugliness. It was a sad day for the speaker, for his party and for all Americans who hoped that some Republican leaders would have the fortitude to put principle over partisanship, job security or the forlorn fantasy that Mr. Trump will advance a traditional GOP agenda.
This is fanciful, as Mr. Ryan must understand. Judging by his wild swings of position over the years, Mr. Trump does not believe in much of anything. The convictions that he does hold — against free trade and U.S. leadership abroad, for dividing the nation by religion and ethnicity — are antithetical to the principles Mr. Ryan has said guide him. Having secured the nomination without Mr. Ryan’s help, a President Trump certainly would not feel bound by any assurances that Mr. Ryan believes he has heard from the candidate.
Following Mr. Ryan’s endorsement, some insisted that the speaker had little choice. This is false. “My dad used to say, ‘If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem,’ ” Mr. Ryan said in March. When he has a comparable conversation with his children, how will Mr. Ryan explain the decision he made in this campaign?
As the Washington Post pointed out, this is a blatant lie, as the few coherent beliefs that it is safe to say Trump appears to hold – opposition to free trade, isolationism, and ethnic divisiveness – stand in stark contrast to the beliefs that Ryan at least ostensibly holds.
On a more fundamental level, however, Ryan’s endorsement of Trump reveals the degree to which bigotry and hatred have become the paramount ideology of the modern Republican Party. Even the party leaders who shunned Trump – Mr. Ryan included – did so not because his bigotry is inherently incorrect and inhumane but because it makes the party look bad. Or, among the truly delusional, Trump was criticised as being “too liberal.” Despite their cynical reasoning, we sensible Americans were slightly relieved that at least there was some opposition to the blatant radicalization of the Republican Party’s message.
Now that the most important pillar of that opposition has fallen, the party ideology is revealed for what it truly is and perhaps always has been: one organized primarily around racial, ethnic, and religious animosity. The “fiscal conservatism” of the GOP patron saint Ronald Reagan – which itself has often been little more than a covert means of expressing and achieving bigoted aims – has been totally overshadowed by an extremist right-wing faction focused exclusively on social issues and with a decidedly fascist bent.
If Mr. Ryan and other mainstream Republicans are willing to support Trumpism when Trump’s economic policies do not even align with those of the mainstream GOP, it is final proof that the overarching ideology of the Republican Party is not fiscal conservatism but white nationalism. Ryan has spoken out eloquently against such demagoguery and division in the past, saying “We think of it in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults. It can be about solutions. It can be about making a difference. It can be about always striving to do better. That’s what it can be and what it should be.” All that was revealed yesterday as the lying politicking that it was as Ryan revealed himself to be a man driven not by principle but by a cynical pragmatism that will gladly accept hatred if it means more votes.
Therefore in describing Ryan’s endorsement of Trump we should not speak of a “betrayal of values,” as his capitulation to hatred and bigotry as the price of doing business in the name of “party unity” makes clear that he had no moral compass to begin with. He was, like much of the Republican establishment, merely wary of expressing candidly the hatred that undergirds so much of their platform. It’s all out in the open now, however, and Mr. Ryan has sided with the oppressor over the oppressed, hatred over progress, and fear over hope.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.