It was while reading House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tepid endorsement of Donald Trump that this thought occurred: Since when did party unity become more important than the country’s best interests?
Ryan seems like a bright, thoughtful guy, admired by fellow House members who elevated him to the speaker’s podium after Rep. John Boehner left. He must have a pretty good idea of the temperament and experience that best suit someone for the White House.
Does The Donald measure up? Tellingly, Ryan’s “endorsement” doesn’t point to Trump’s strengths. It’s mostly about the House Republicans’ agenda with its “focus on issues that unite Republicans” and his hopes to “unite the party so we can win in the fall.”
He mentions Trump’s name only three times, doesn’t use the word “endorse” at all, and after talking to the candidate concludes that “on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement.”
Not exactly an offer to get out there and whip up the vote, is it? Some of Trump’s primary opponents — Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio, for example — sound absolutely giddy in comparison.
A focus on party unity isn’t just a Republican thing. Bernie Sanders has announced that he’ll likely vote for Hillary Clinton in the fall — a sort-of endorsement — thus showing a united front for Democrats. It’s a little mind-boggling that Sanders, elected by Vermonters as an independent who calls himself a democratic socialist, gave Clinton a run for her money in Democratic primaries. Such are the vagaries of politics.
Ryan isn’t heavy-handed. He won’t insist that House Republicans line up behind Trump because “the last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.” (In another interview, he said the Democratic “sit-on” was a political fundraising stunt and that the NRA had nothing to do with Republican decisions on gun control. Seriously?)
Obviously there are good reasons to have political parties. They have principles and ideas that attract like-minded voters. They are a shorthand for placing people (often inaccurately) somewhere on the political spectrum. Most important, they offer expertise and money to party candidates, along with all those volunteers who pass out literature and make phone calls.
But they’re not constitutional, they’re not mandatory, and the R’s and D’s are not even the only two parties in our nation’s history. We’ve had the Federalists, the Anti-Masonics, the Whigs, the Nullifiers, the Free Soilers, the Greenbacks, the Progressives, and on and on. We’ve even had an American Nazi Party.
So there’s nothing sacred about the two-party system. The Republicans and Democrats — and maybe the Libertarians — are just the latest survivors.
Probably Ryan didn’t have much of a choice. He was never going to support Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee. Unlike the Bush family, he didn’t have a good reason for doing nothing at all. And he was pressured to do something.
But I would have taken Ryan more seriously had he listed the reasons he thought Donald Trump is best qualified to be president of the United States. Political party unity isn’t good enough.
Lindy High, of Boise, is a retired Idaho state employee who worked for elected officials of both parties.