The Trump De­mogor­gon de­vours Ryan

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank

— I just fin­ished watch­ing “Stranger Things,” the Net­flix se­ries in which govern­ment sci­en­tists try to spy on Rus­sians by send­ing a girl with tele­ki­netic pow­ers into a par­al­lel uni­verse.

The plan goes awry when the girl, by open­ing the gate be­tween uni­verses, al­lows a face­less, long-clawed mon­ster to es­cape. The De­mogor­gon be­gins kid­nap­ping and eat­ing peo­ple in the real world, and the sci­en­tists, pow­er­less to stop it, are them­selves de­voured.

Watch­ing this flesh-eat­ing mon­ster con­sume the very peo­ple who made it pos­si­ble nat­u­rally brought to mind Don­ald Trump.

Repub­li­can lead­ers tried to har­ness the power of par­al­lel uni­verses — the tea party, the birthers, the alt-right and oth­ers ag­grieved by women, im­mi­grants and racial and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties — and their ex­per­i­men­ta­tion un­leashed De­mogor­gon Trump, who is now eat­ing de­fense­less party lead­ers alive.

Take House Speaker Paul Ryan, who didn’t step up to op­pose Trump a year ago when he and other lead­ers, act­ing in con­cert, prob­a­bly could have ral­lied the GOP to re­ject Trump. Now Ryan is do­ing many of the right things — con­demn­ing Trump’s video­taped re­marks about women, an­nounc­ing he won’t de­fend or cam­paign with Trump and ad­vis­ing mem­bers to “do what’s best for you in your district” re­gard­ing Trump. But the mon­ster con­tin­ues ma­raud­ing.

This week­end, Ryan took is­sue with Trump’s talk about rigged elec­tions and other re­marks that could in­duce vi­o­lence on and af­ter Elec­tion Day. His of­fice re­leased a state­ment say­ing he is “fully con­fi­dent” in elec­tion in­tegrity. Trump swiped at Ryan in a se­ries of tweets: “Paul Ryan, al­ways fight­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee! ... Paul Ryan, a man who doesn’t know how to win (in­clud­ing failed run four years ago). ... Paul Ryan does zilch!”

And it’s not just Ryan who lost con­trol. Even Mike Pence, Trump’s run­ning mate, can’t bring the mon­ster to heel. “We will ab­so­lutely ac­cept the re­sults of the elec­tion,” he said Sun­day, only for Trump to tweet Mon­day that “there is large scale voter fraud hap­pen­ing on and be­fore Elec­tion Day. Why do Repub­li­can lead­ers deny what is go­ing on? So naive!”

Be­tween Sat­ur­day morn­ing and Mon­day morn­ing, the Trump mon­ster fired off tweets and retweets with a com­bined 30 ex­cla­ma­tion points: “COR­RUP­TION CON­FIRMED ... voter fraud! ... RIGGED! ... an­other hoax ... to­tally phoney [sic] sto­ries ... cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal ma­chine push­ing crooked Hil­lary Clin­ton ... SO COR­RUPT! ... Me­dia rig­ging elec­tion! ... Me­dia rig­ging elec­tion!”

Trump in re­cent days has sug­gested Clin­ton is on drugs, talked of a “stolen elec­tion” and called Clin­ton the “devil.” The Anti-Defama­tion League has protested Trump’s use of anti-Semitic tropes when he talks of Clin­ton meet­ing “in se­cret with in­ter­na­tional banks to plot the de­struc­tion of U.S. sovereignty” and of “me­dia en­ablers” con­trol­ling the na­tion “through means that are very well known.” Trump ear­lier called in­ter­na­tion­al­trade sup­port­ers “blood­suck­ers.”

The prospect of Trump-in­duced vi­o­lence on or af­ter Elec­tion Day — he has di­rected his sup­port­ers to mon­i­tor polling places, a recipe for con­flict — seems to be growing. Af­ter the Ari­zona Repub­lic en­dorsed a Demo­crat for pres­i­dent for the first time in its 125-year his­tory, the pa­per’s man­age­ment re­ceived death threats. Af­ter Sat­ur­day’s fire­bomb­ing of a county GOP of­fice in North Carolina (Clin­ton called it “hor­rific and un­ac­cept­able” and was “grate­ful that ev­ery­one is safe”), Trump in­flamed ten­sions by say­ing, “An­i­mals rep­re­sent­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton and Dems in North Carolina just fire­bombed our of­fice.”

Trump’s depre­da­tions have left Ryan, the high­es­trank­ing Repub­li­can in the land, in a no-win situation. He could re­voke his Trump en­dorse­ment, but this would re­quire re­sign­ing the speak­er­ship, be­cause a ma­jor­ity of GOP cau­cus mem­bers are from heav­ily con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts where Trump is pop­u­lar. They, like Trump and his le­gions, are al­ready fu­ri­ous with Ryan, and his crit­i­cism of Trump only makes them an­grier. I’m told Ryan con­sid­ered re­sign­ing, but this would ac­com­plish lit­tle be­yond gen­er­at­ing more chaos in an al­ready un­govern­able GOP cau­cus.

Al­ter­na­tively, Ryan could have been quiet about Trump’s out­rages as Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell has, or he could have be­come a Trump cheer­leader the way Pence has. That might have bet­ter pre­served Ryan’s stand­ing with con­ser­va­tives for a 2020 pres­i­den­tial run. But Pence and McConnell have sac­ri­ficed their moral stand­ing. Lib­er­als call Ryan cow­ardly be­cause he won’t for­mally un-en­dorse Trump, but he has left no doubt about his con­tempt for his party’s nom­i­nee.

More than 15 months ago, I ar­gued that “Trump may be a mon­ster, but he’s the mon­ster Repub­li­cans cre­ated.” Ryan failed to act, and now it’s too late. GOP lead­ers long ago lost their leash on this mon­ster.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON

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