It hadn’t been 24 hours since House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he was endorsing Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee before Ryan was forced to put some distance between himself and the GOP’s new standard-bearer.
Asked about Trump’s repeated insistence that an Indiana-born federal judge hearing a case against his now-defunct Trump University is biased against him because of his Mexican heritage, Ryan said he was baffled.
“It's reasoning I don't relate to,” Ryan said in a radio interview. “I completely disagree with the thinking behind that.” He also made the thoroughly unbelievable claim that Trump’s comments came “out of left field” when the billionaire has been saying disparaging Hispanics and other minorities since the day he announced his candidacy.
On the same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to respond to comments Trump made attacking Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico. “Completely unfortunate and unnecessary,” he called them “a big mistake.”
After the candidate’s attack on Martinez, Team Trump decided it would be a good idea to send Sam Clovis, the dubiously credentialed self-described “economist” and Trump’s chief policy advisor, to explain their man’s position. “What he’s really saying is that we’ve got to energize the country,” Clovis told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. We’ve got to get things focused; we’ve got to do a better job across the board.”
“But you’re not going to energize the country by [attacking] the governor of New Mexico,” Baldwin interjected.
“Well, YOU may not,” Clovis said with an air of great sagacity. “We’ve taken the opportunity to highlight that there are things wrong in this country and they need to be fixed and we need everybody to be pulling on the rope at the same time.
“If you’re going to sit back and sit on your laurels and hope nobody notices -- that’s not going to happen. Because when we come to Washington, D.C. in January and Donald Trump assumes the presidency of the United States, the whole country and certainly the government will be on notice that things are going to change.”
What did that mean? And what did it have to do with Trump’s attack on Martinez? It’s anybody’s guess. But it suggests, at least, that within the Trump campaign, things like random verbal assaults on the party’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman are part of the plan going forward.
And all this was before CNN host Jake Tapper, on Friday afternoon, asked Trump no fewer than 24 times over the course of a very uncomfortable interview whether his comments about the judge were racist. Trump repeatedly referred to the judge, Gonzalo Curiel, as “a Mexican” even as Tapper repeatedly reminded him “he’s an American from Indiana.”
Trump followed up that interview by appearing at a rally in California during which he interrupted himself mid-sentence to point out a black man in the crowd. “Oh, look at my African American over here -- look at him. Are you the greatest?”
The bad news for Ryan, McConnell, and other leaders of the GOP like Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus is that this drumbeat is not likely to stop. Now that they have unambiguously boarded the Trump train, none of them is going to be able to set foot outside his office without someone shoving a microphone in his face demanding a response to Trump’s latest offensive statement or erratic policy pronouncement.
And for vulnerable Republicans up for House and Senate elections this November, the outlook is even worse. Ryan and McConnell, at least, aren’t in danger of losing their seats over Trump. But the Democrats will be gleefully cataloging every offensive and bizarre thing that Trump has said and will say going forward, and demanding that Republican House and Senate candidates respond to them.
The many who have endorsed Trump can count on their Democratic challengers to keep Hispanic voters, women, African Americans, Muslims, and other minorities up to date on every outrage, and to claim that an endorsement of Trump is a de facto endorsement of his views.
As much as many in the GOP likely wish it weren’t so, the GOP is now truly the party of Trump, and they’ll be hearing more about him on the campaign trail than any of them likely want to.