You gotta hand it to House Speaker Paul Ryan. He has successfully staked his claim to the moral high ground — at least when it comes to his image crafting. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether he’d now endorse his party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, that he and his staff had prepared a ready answer: “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.” Translation: What’s in this for me?
Let’s be honest: A lot of people in politics are not honest. Many are, and I treasure the ones who are, value those who are friends. Far too many, though, are not. Their scruples match those in the business world, exclusively guided by the “whatever sells” mindset, with no regard to product quality, public health or treatment of employees. If it fattens profits, it’s acceptable, their thinking goes; whatever undermines the bottom line must be resisted.
In politics, it’s “whatever keeps me/us in power.” Remember that as we ponder the “ethical dilemma” confronting Republicans who believe that Donald Trump as president would be a disaster for the country and certainly the party. Some are staying defiant, saying there’s no way he’s their guy, but for most others there is no dilemma; they’re falling in line, their feelings of horror about Trump a dim memory, obliterated by their canny instinct for self-interest.
They are frantically calculating what leaves them in the best position to maintain their power and prosperity. Can they get ahead or at least survive better by being good soldiers, or do they benefit in the long run by repudiating Trump so that after a Republican debacle on Election Day, they are able to loudly shout, “I told you so!”
Then you have the Paul Ryans of this world who are playing for time to squeeze out whatever advantage they can. Others who face tough election prospects of their own are taking the mealy-mouthed stand that they “support but won’t endorse” the new GOP leader.
And then there are those like Ted Cruz, who wouldn’t seem to have any choice. Cruz really embarrassed himself in Indiana and got so badly hammered that he had to shut down his campaign. That was after he got goaded into ranting that Donald Trump was a “pathological liar” and “philanderer.” For now, one would think he can only pout and plot while he just returns to his friends in the Senate. Oh, wait …
John Kasich also gave up the ghost and ended his smiley-face run with a sad look. He finally realized that “Don’t Worry Be Happy” won’t cut it with this year’s angry voters.
Trump has constantly proved everyone wrong, at every turn. It’s a mistake to underestimate the chance this country won’t choose him to be the next president of the United States. His opponent presumably will be Hillary Clinton, who is not exactly the most adept candidate. Even in the world of deceptive politics, she’s managed to look untrustworthy. Additionally, she’s been tarred by a perception that she’s in the same boat with the people who so many feel are the pirates sailing our “rigged” economic ship. Bernie Sanders has given her fits over that, but imagine what Trump will say. He has made insults his main weapons of crass destruction. Hillary and her advisers are already planning how they’ll deal with the barrage, and they’ve already starting unleashing one of their own.
Both candidates have remarkably high “unfavorable ratings,” so their choice of a running mate will be critical. Just ask Cruz, who added to the weirdness with Carly Fiorina. As usual, the mentionables in both parties are pretending they’re aloof, not letting people see that they’re foaming at the mouth. That doesn’t include Newt Gingrich, who is maneuvering in his typical unsubtle way. He’s a great match for Trump. Both are demagogues who shoot from the lips. Neither is the slightest bit concerned over right and wrong. Like most politicians.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.