Paul Ryan’s Endorsement of Trump a Bitter Pill to Swallow

Because Trump did nothing to earn Paul Ryan's endorsement, he may conclude that he doesn't need to negotiate with the GOP; he can just wait on its eventual submission.

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), speaks during a visit with residents at the Graceview Apartments, June 7, 2016 in Washington, DC.

By Jonah Goldberg Published on June 8, 2016

Paul Ryan is a disappointment. That’s more difficult for me to write than it should be. My approach to politicians has generally been similar to that of lab researchers to their test animals: Do not get too attached. For scientists, it’s a lot easier to stick a guinea pig with a needle if you know it as “test subject 43A” than if you know it as “Mr. Fluffy.” For the columnist, it’s easier to twist the knife if you don’t feel personally invested.

But philosophically and temperamentally, I’ve long felt that Ryan is my kind of politician, and that judgment didn’t change after getting to know him (which is rare, given how most politicians are all too human). His vision for government’s role and the kind of party the GOP should be has always resonated with me, even if I didn’t agree with him on every policy or vote.

For those reasons I wasn’t just pleased that he held the line against Donald Trump, I was proud. And for those reasons, his endorsement of Trump was a true disappointment.

On May 5, Ryan announced that he wasn’t ready to endorse. Trump instantly retorted: “I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda.”

Ryan is no naïf. His stance was both strategic and principled. We were told that he was giving his GOP caucus “cover” so they wouldn’t all have to bend the knee to King Trump at once.

Moreover, Ryan implied that he was holding out in order to push Trump in a more conservative direction; the businessman would have to show good faith and rein in his antics in exchange for party unity. GOP apparatchiks reassured the scattered holdouts, particularly among donors, that Trump would soon stop the scorched-earth insults and histrionics and get on board with the GOP agenda. Even Trump’s supporters, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, insisted that the presumptive nominee would “get better.”

But Trump never showed signs of improvement. He attacked New Mexico’s popular Republican governor, Susana Martinez, for the effrontery of not supporting him. And he vilified the Indiana-born judge in his Trump University fraud case for being a “Mexican.”

“You think I’m going to change?” Trump asked reporters at a positively unhinged news conference last week. “I’m not changing.”

Yet Ryan endorsed him anyway.

Admittedly, Ryan’s endorsement was about as grudging as possible. He announced it on Thursday in a local Wisconsin newspaper. In a video interview with the Associated Press, he showed all the sincerity of a POW muttering into a captor’s camera. Ryan said he was “confident” that Trump would help him advance his agenda. Alas, he didn’t blink “just kidding” in Morse code.

In throwing his support to Trump, Ryan made two mistakes. The first was tactical.

Because Trump did nothing to earn Ryan’s endorsement, the presumptive nominee may conclude that he needn’t negotiate with the GOP establishment; he can just count on its eventual submission.

As the Washington Examiner‘s Philip Klein put it, “If Ryan can’t stand up to candidate Trump, why should we expect he’d stand up to a President Trump?”

Ryan also jeopardized the party’s long game. Ryan understands better than most that the biggest hurdle for conservatives is how their motivations are perceived. If someone starts out thinking you’re greedy, mean-spirited or bigoted, they’re not going to listen to your 10-point plan. Ryan has been fighting that perception all his political life.

Trump often embraces that perception, proving conservatism’s harshest critics right. For example, the left says conservatives support “wars for oil.” Trump says that “taking the oil” of Iraq and Libya should be a top priority. Democrats claim that conservative immigration and national security policies stem from animosity toward Latinos and Muslims. Ryan’s honest retort to such claims is that he abhors identity politics. Meanwhile, Trump is perfectly comfortable saying that an American judge’s Latino heritage is disqualifying. On Sunday, he said the same might hold for Muslim judges.

From entitlements to trade to the First Amendment, Trump has made it clear that his vision of government isn’t Ryan’s. And the gulf in temperament and tone between the two men is wider and deeper than the Marianas Trench.

Trump, then, poses an Aesopian challenge to Ryan; the scorpion must sting the frog because that is its nature. The only way to avoid the sting is not to ally yourself with the scorpion in the first place. Trump will fade one day, but even Ryan’s halfhearted embrace of Trumpism makes it more likely Ryanism will fade too.


Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.


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  • flounderteeth

    Incredibly well written. Thanks. I do think that Ryan understands that Trump will lose to Hillary and unfortunately will take many other Republicans with him down the ticket (the conservatives will not come out and vote). It’s the loss of Republicans down the ticket that concerns Ryan the most. But this was considered by the GOP establishment prior to Indiana (the loss of the Senate and state positions) and the GOP leadership choose Trump over Cruz to prevent at all cost a conservative from getting in.

  • 6thinclass

    Of course D Trump had to come out & say the Judge was prejudicial against him before the decision was made – to excuse being found guilty of fraud! Trump couldn’t possibly be found guilty because all of the evidence proves him guilty!!! He is just an innocent man being taken advantage of over & over (tongue in cheek). Trump wouldn’t bilke the poor, or retired, or uneducated out of the little money they do have! Madoff was probably Trump’s idol/hero! but trying to keep it on a smaller scale. Trump isn’t the first real estate mogul ‘teacher’ telling his followers to max out their credit cards to invest in real estate!

  • cant_happen_here

    I used to enjoy Jonah Goldberg’s appearances and commentary on Fox News, but not since the primary election season began. This piece is pathetic, and full of distortions and half-truths. His is the self-delusion of purist (ideologue intellectual) conservative pundits, who can’t accept that the majority of GOP voters are fed up with the politics of the past and have chosen Donald Trump.

    Trump, in spite of his imperfections, is dead set against the politics of the GOP Establishment, whereby a dominant party hierarchy relies on the votes of millions of conservatives, but rarely keeps the promises they make to them. In Congress (and in most states) elected conservatives who stand on principle (like Ted Cruz) are shunned by the dominant centrist/moderate/RINO’s who occupy most of GOP House and Senate seats, who talk “conservative” to get elected, but in Congress become fearful of the liberal MSM, politically correct, spineless and largely focused on getting themselves reelected, rather than actually standing for something. And it is the majority of these GOP members of Congress who elect and get behind weak leaders like Boehner, McConnell, and yes, now Paul Ryan, and shove real conservatives into a little ghetto.

    And yet purist conservatives lead the pack for this continued subservience to a largely non-conservative Republican Party as it reveals it’s true self in Congress. The only time the GOP made real conservative progress was during Reagan’s presidency, and during Newt Gingrich’s House speakership.

    As for reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Republicans and conservatives, it is purist conservatives like Goldberg and his fellow travelers at NRO and elsewhere who do not take a strong stand against illegal immigration and excessive legal immigration, and thus do not support U.S. citizen workers and the declining middle class. Why don’t they do this? Because that is what the corporations and businesses want: cheap foreign labor– and add to that the terrible trade deals with other nations, from NAFTA to TPP. Yes, the purist conservatives are so strongly pro-business that they don’t care if millions of American workers are unemployed or underemployed, and of course that includes millions of rank-and-file conservative voters. It is Trump’s populist stand against these negative aspects of conservatism that not only drew many conservative voters, but has expanded the base of the party.

    • Laurel

      The problem with your commentary is it is rhetoric as well. You toss out the word ‘purist’ in the pejorative as a method of demeaning those that disagree with you instead of addressing the disagreements unto themselves. That is a tactic of the left.

      You assume that those that disagree with Trump do not agree with the problems that are posed. For example this statement by you: “But the purist conservatives are so strongly pro-business that they don’t care if millions of American workers are unemployed or underemployed, and of course that includes millions of rank-and-file conservative voters.” Just because one does not agree with Trump, or even believe half of what he says, doesn’t mean they disagree that the problem exists. A person can disagree with the solution and agree that there is a problem.

      And last but not least, you posit solutions, many of them conservative, that Trump himself has never ever posited with any amount of seriousness.

      Perhaps the problem is you and not the ‘purists’.

      • cant_happen_here

        I disagree with your comment, but since it is rhetoric itself, it is not worth the time to rebut it. Your argument is weakened with the condescending: “Perhaps the problem is you and not the ‘purists'”. No, the purist conservatives are indeed a problem, first unto themselves, and to those they manage to sway. In the case of Bill Kristol it has become comedy.
        And if you read any of Trump’s policy positions on these issues, developed with the help of the lonely warrior, Senator Sessions, you would realize the error of saying that “Trump himself has never ever posited with any amount of seriousness”.

        Suffice it to say that most conservative pundits or writers at places like National Review and Weekly Standard have had little or nothing to say about excessive LEGAL immigration, nor securing the border, nor illegal immigration, and these were big problems long before Trump came on the scene.

        • Laurel

          Ironically you prove my point. I have read the policy issues…trouble is Trump hasn’t. He isn’t well versed in them, doesn’t know the background of them and why they were formulated the way they were…but most of all he contradicts them daily. At times he contradicts them minute to minute. That is a counter you and those like yourself cannot face so you toss out the word ‘purist’ in the pejorative. It’s all you have. Of note Jeff Sessions has some racism in his background he has to contend with and it kept him from being appointed to a judgeship.

          Furthermore Bill Kristol is hardly a pure conservative and no one, up to this point in your post, ever considered him as such. He is a big government Republican.

          As you point to NR and other publications a simple Google search proves you incorrect.

          It isn’t about Trump acting presidential…funny how Trump supporters always run to that meme. It is about Trump having even a modicum of morality and decency in the present or his past. He is a con man with a combover and really not all that smart of one either.

          You also come across as a racist authoritarian like Trump. There are a great deal of other issues in addition to the border. Of those issues his rhetoric and ‘policy’ is flat out stupid and impassable unless Republicans really would like a permanent minority position as the ‘loyal opposition’.

          Some of us are quite capable of focusing on Hillary and Trump. Pity you aren’t but cultists like yourself do tend to be all in. Now go forth and enjoy your cult because it will come to an end.

          • cant_happen_here

            Your comment reveals a cult-like affinity for elitist purist conservatism, an obsessive Never Trumpism, the ability to contradict yourself within a short paragraph ( “It isn’t about Trump acting presidential” vs. “It is about Trump having even a modicum of morality and decency in the present or his past” AND “Some of us are quite capable of focusing on Hillary and Trump.” vs. “Pity you aren’t but cultists like yourself do tend to be all in.”), a lack of substance in your opinion the leads to resorting yo name-calling, and a GOP Establishment style fear of political correctness combined with a snobbish elitist view of the “hoi polloi”.

            And no, I am not a racist. But only a mindless PC elitist would not realize that a de facto invasion of 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants with a high birth rate, plus many years of excessive LEGAL immigration (plus H-1b and H-2b visa workers) is not healthy for any country with a very slow growth economy, an overly generous welfare state, a 19 trillion fiscal debt, many millions of underemployed U.S. citizens having lost career jobs and benefits, high youth and especially high minority youth unemployment, stagnant wages for over a decade, and a declining and depressed middle class.


            That is likely more than you are able to comprehend. But then you likely work for National Review (or should be), are thus have a very narrow-minded view of the world. It’s OK, you’re doing the best you can. Adios!

          • Laurel

            Thanks for the projection as it does prove my point repeatedly. You point the finger and fail to notice the three pointing back at you.

            Yes you are indeed a racist. Funny how when cultists like yourself have nothing to counter an opinion with they cry about name calling. What is uncanny is they fail to notice the hypocrisy of their whining and crying as they jump all in for a man who thrives on name calling. Furthermore using the word ‘purist’ in the pejorative takes your hypocrisy to new levels! Excuse me while I ROFLMAO AT YOU!

            Good grief back away from the keyboard before you embarrass yourself any further while feeling the need to type paragraphs in all caps thus once again proving me correct. Oh my! You wish you could work at NR but I must say I don’t. Sorry to disappoint you but I am gainfully employed as the owner of two businesses myself.

            Give people enough rope and they hang themselves every time. I’m going to enjoy watching Robespierre Trump hang. Heck I might vote for him just to make it happen faster…maybe….Nah! I will let you cultists have all of the fun. Some of us still do believe integrity and principles matter hence the reason you haven’t had any border security and you won’t have any in the next four years either regardless of who gets inaugurated. What is so ignominious of you cultists is you think because we disagree with you about Trump we must also disagree that there is an illegal immigration problem. That alone shows your limited IQ and racist mentality.

            Good day.

          • cant_happen_here

            It sad to see you reveal your true self. Not worth a full read let alone a response. But you tried. Have a nice weekend. You need it.

          • Laurel

            Uh huh…you are unable to counter facts. It wasn’t me I revealed and despite lying you know it all too well.

          • cant_happen_here

            What facts?………..

          • Laurel

            It appears you aren’t as smart as you thought since you cannot even recognize facts.

            Oh my.

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