Oh, the irony. After avoiding Donald Trump for months, Paul Ryan finally ready to do it: appear with the GOP presidential nominee in public, on the campaign trail, for the first time in the general election.
We say “was ready,” because even though there’s no word of any change in his plans, he’s probably feeling very unready to share a stage with Trump Saturday as planned. Their first campaign event comes less than 24 hours after The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold published audio via a hot mic in 2005 where Trump is recorded sharing incredibly lewd things about women.
This isn’t the first time Trump has made life difficult for Ryan within a 24-hour period: Ryan endorsed Trump in June. Literally the next day, Trump questioned a federal judge’s objectivity, citing his “Hispanic” heritage. In fact, since endorsing Trump, Ryan has had to denounce or disagree with him an average of 11 days.
Back to Friday’s headache. Trump brushed off the hard-to-listen-to tape as “locker room banter.” It will be very hard for Ryan to do the same.
Ryan doesn’t just have one election to worry about — he’s got dozens. Democrats are hoping to take advantage of Trump’s unpopularity in swing districts across the nation and eat into House Republicans’ historic majority.
Republicans have danced an exhaustive dance to hold Trump at arms length this election cycle, and for the most part it’s been working. There hasn’t been a sign that Trump is a major drag on Hill Republicans yet. Rather, Hill Republicans’ “support, but not really” strategy had been working — so much so that Ryan had calculated he was safe to stand on a stage with Trump on Saturday, one day before a potentially make-or-break presidential debate, and following a pretty terrible week all around for Trump.
“Safe” is almost definitely not the word we’d use now to describe Ryan’s planned campaign event Saturday in Wisconsin.
@PhilipRucker At the Pence rally in Rossford, OH Jim Jordan said he hadn’t seen the comments and then quickly left the press pen
— Alan He (@alanhe) October 7, 2016
It’s very possible that this news is the moment vulnerable Republicans seize on to run as far as they can from their party’s presidential nominee. Already we’ve seen one vulnerable Senate Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), unendorse Trump, and others run as a “check” on a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) took heat earlier this week for saying she “absolutely” thinks Trump is a role model for New Hampshire children. She launched an ad to walk it back even before Trump’s 2005 audio became public. And on Friday, she was among the first vulnerable GOP senators to release a statement condemning the audio.
JUST IN: GOP Sen @KellyAyotte stmt on newly released Trump audio: “His comments are totally inappropriate and offensive.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) October 7, 2016
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), one of the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents, is scheduled to attend the Saturday campaign event too.
That’s the Senate. House races, by their more localized nature, are more influenced by the presidential election. And that’s bad news for Ryan.
Before this news, some Democratic operatives were publicly questioning the effectiveness of Trump attacks in certain districts — even wondering whether Trump’s out-there-ness might be working to Republicans’ advantage. That might still be the case.
But Ryan, as the standard bearer of the party, can’t not be mulling over the political consequences of appearing with Trump with his lewd comments as the back drop.
And Ryan has his own political future to worry about too: If he wanted to run for president in 2020, you can bet Democrats would remember he shared a stage with Trump after hearing what Trump said about women.
And that’s the cruel irony of this election for Ryan: Just when it seems like he’s caught a break from Trump, he hasn’t.