Today’s Republican party makes no sense.
It spent decades as the party of national security before nominating a man who both defends Russia and pretends to know nothing about the place.
If it is the party of small government and constitutional liberty, it’s not clear why its members feel so good about locking up political opponents like Hillary Clinton.
To cap it all, the party is currently led by a reality TV star who destroyed his own campaign with a TV interview.
But all those contradictions look simple compared to the pretzel shape that now passes for the strategy of its leadership.
House speaker Paul Ryan was a reluctant endorser of Donald Trump. Now he is a reluctant non-endorser of the same.
Ryan told his own Republican caucus on Monday that he would no longer defend Trump or campaign with him. He urged all the rats to leave the sinking ship, telling them “to do what’s best for you” to save their House majority. He said his own mission was to stop Clinton controlling the House and Senate, as well as the White House.
But there is no escape from this shipwreck, as Trump himself made clear on Twitter. “Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, job and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee,” said the same nominee.
Ryan is indeed wasting his time. He and his House Republicans cannot run away from their own nominee. They have said too many nice things about a man who brags about sexual assault. Just one nice thing would be one too many for the suburban female voters who decide general elections.
At the same time, Ryan and his crew cannot run away from their own Trump-loving base. If they do, they run the very real risk that Trump voters will mark their ballots for the presidential candidate and simply skip their down-ballot votes. Even a small protest vote would hand every battleground district to the Democrats.
Those battlegrounds are already leaning a long way away from the GOP. According to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Clinton enjoys an 11-point lead among likely voters. Barack Obama took control of the White House and Capitol Hill with a seven-point win in 2008. A mere defeat threatens to turn into a full-blown rout.
To make matters worse for the Trump campaign, after squandering a year without a real organization, it has no voter turnout operations of its own. Instead it is reliant on the RNC’s ground game, which is now either ambivalent about its presidential candidate or shifting decisively towards the House contests.
That might help explain the ominous statements issued by Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, who warned that Ryan was booed by Trump fans in his home state over the weekend. She went on to say that she knew of GOP lawmakers who forced themselves on young women and were hypocrites for shunning Trump.
This Republican civil war is what you might call a lose-lose proposition. It might be a great reality TV show if it didn’t affect the selection of the next leader of the free world.
Of course, Paul Ryan and his fellow GOP leaders already know who the next president will be, and she’s not colored orange. Their real contest is not about the House or the Senate. It’s about the next Republican leader to guide the party out of the wilderness.
That Moses vacancy is currently unfilled. Ted Cruz blew it with his perfectly timed endorsement just days before the Billy Bush video emerged. Mike Pence will forever be stained by putting his name on the Trump ticket. Jeb Bush will be 67 at the next election, trying to unseat another Clinton on behalf of his family.
And then there’s Paul Ryan, a relatively youthful leader with not only impeccable conservative credentials but also an anti-poverty plan. Compared to Donald Trump, he is a Desmond Tutu of peace and reconciliation.
That’s where Ryan’s current strategy buckles under its internal contradictions. If the Republican party is to return to power any time soon, it needs to clean house of the crazies who invaded it under the Tea Party banner in 2010.
There is no hedging your way into the mainstream after so long on the fringes of birtherism, Islamophobia, nativism and sexism. There are no baby steps back from a flat tax and protectionism. There is nothing easy about erasing the cheap talk of undermining Nato and defending Russia. At this rate, the next Republican president has not yet been elected to a governorship or the US Congress.
To one half of his own party, Ryan will forever be the man who betrayed Trump. To the other half, he will forever be the man who stood aside while Trump wrecked the place.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Republicans lampooned a Democratic presidential candidate for taking both sides of the most important issue facing the country.
His name was John Kerry, and he suggested, at one campaign rally, that he voted both for and against funding the war in Iraq. For that act of doublespeak, the man who is now secretary of state was pursued by giant flip-flops at every campaign event.
The GOP united in its scorn for the Democrats, the party of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, who had nominated the French-speaking, windsurfing candidate who was clearly as unmanly as he was indecisive.
Republicans have traveled a very long way in the last decade. They are both for and against their own nominee. They oppose his character but they favor his policies. Unless they think he can win, in which case his character is something they can live with. They surrendered their moral compass and now find themselves lost in a sea of indecision.
The flip-flops are now on the other feet.