In an interview with the Washington Post, GOP nominee Donald Trump said he does not support Ryan in the speaker’s Republican primary next week. Ryan’s opponent, a largely unknown businessman named Paul Nehlen, is running “a very good campaign,” according to Trump. Though Trump said that he is giving a Ryan endorsement “very serious consideration,” Trump added that he is “not quite there yet.”
Yet, while party leaders are reportedly “apoplectic” over Trump’s non-endorsement of the party’s highest ranking elected official, they shouldn’t be surprised. Trump has one thing that Paul Ryan does not have: a real constituency within the GOP.
Speaker Ryan is best known for the so-called Ryan Budget, a dog’s breakfast of deep cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, tax cuts for upper-income earners, and a signature proposal to repeal Medicare and replace it with a voucher program that offers inferior benefits to seniors at a higher cost.
These proposals are unpopular. They are unpopular with Americans at large. They are unpopular with Republicans at large. They are even unpopular with Republican donors! Indeed, the only group that supports Ryan’s ideas are wealthy donors to the GOP:
Trump, meanwhile, treats Ryan’s unpopular proposals with contempt. He’s criticized Republican plans to cut safety net programs — “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that.” And he labeled the Ryan Budget a “stupid” mix of proposals that includes “everything that you don’t want.”
Moreover, while there is virtually no constituency either within or outside of the Republican Party for Paul Ryan’s ideas, there is massive support within the GOP for Trump’s mix of racism and religious bigotry.
A March poll found that 71 percent of Republican voters support Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. Sixty-two percent of Republicans support building a wall along the Mexican border. Half of Republican voters support deporting all undocumented immigrants to their home country (although, somewhat incongruously, an even larger percentage support giving these immigrants a path to citizenship). Republicans broadly share Trump’s belief that using the magic words “radical Islam” will help combat terrorism.
Donald Trump, in other words, has actually tapped into sincere beliefs held by large numbers of Republican voters. Paul Ryan, by contrast, is selling a package of goods that appeals only to a small segment of wealthy individuals. That gives Trump real power within the GOP, and it means that Ryan’s clout is tied entirely to the influence of a fairly short list of donors.