We’ve reached Day 85 of the hostage crisis known as the Donald Trump nomination. And he’s threatening to start shooting the captives.
The “hostages” are Republicans running for office this year. They now find themselves torn between two bad options: to abandon the top of their ticket or to embrace the nominee.
Their decision was only made harder when, on the heels of the “Access Hollywood” scandal, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he would focus his time on re-electing congressional Republicans, not on electing Donald Trump.
This snub sent Trump on a rampage. “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. Then, he went after Ryan’s signature legislation. “By the way,” Trump said on Fox News, “very, very bad budgets.”
By Wednesday, he was suggesting Ryan had made some “sinister deal” with the establishment.
It would be one thing if Ryan were the sole focus of his retribution. But more likely victims are candidates like Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, who must desperately woo suburban soccer moms without alienating hard-core Trump supporters in the Keystone State. The danger that Republicans might now lose control of the Senate is very real.
But what does Trump get out of it? It doesn’t seem to matter. He has always preferred the “get mad and even” option to the “get ahead” strategy, and now, he seems destined to achieve the former at the expense of the latter.
We should have seen it coming. Back in May, when New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez skipped a Trump rally there, The Donald went after her: “She’s got to do a better job, OK?”
Today, with just weeks to go until Election Day, Trump’s message to any Republican looking for an escape hatch seems to be: IF I’M GOING DOWN, YOU’RE GOING DOWN WITH ME!
In other words, Trump is threatening a game of mutually assured destruction. You can stay with him and be dragged down by the anti-Trump wave, or you can abandon him and have his supporters refuse to vote for you. It’s up to you.
In fact, a tweet by Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson implied that Trump voters should cast their ballots solely for her man and skip voting for down-ballot Republicans.
Coming from a campaign that had urged conservatives to unite behind Trump for the sake of Supreme Court nominations, this struck one observer as discordant. “[T]he people who claimed we all must support Trump because of judges,” wrote conservative Erick Erickson, “would put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House and Chuck Schumer in charge of the Senate. They don’t really care about judges or values or restrictions on Democrats. They only care about Trump.”
There have also been what might be interpreted as veiled threats of retribution. After reminding TV viewers that Ryan had been “booed by Trump fans over the weekend,” as The New York Times reported, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she “knew of Republican lawmakers who had behaved inappropriately toward young women, and whose criticism of Mr. Trump was therefore hypocritical.”
In other words, Conway knows where the bodies are buried, and if you’re going to walk away from Mr. Trump, it would be a shame if some of your own peccadilloes were exposed.
“I would talk to some of the members of Congress out there, when I was younger and prettier, them rubbing up against girls, sticking their tongues down women’s throats who — uninvited — who didn’t like it,” she also told MSNBC host Chris Matthews, adding that “some of them, by the way, are on the list of people who won’t support Donald Trump.”
Compare that with the way past Republican standard-bearers have sacrificed for the good of the party. Faced with an imminent loss in the waning campaign of 1996, Republican nominee Bob Dole chose the unselfish route; he didn’t say a word when Republicans adopted a triage campaign that refocused resources to defend down-ballot Republicans.
Donald Trump is no Bob Dole.
We shouldn’t be surprised by what is happening. Even before winning the nomination, and even before he attacked Martinez, Trump threatened retaliation if Republicans didn’t bow to his will. For a time, the fear was that he would bolt and run a third-party candidacy.
At the time, that seemed like a worst-case scenario. Today, it sounds almost nostalgic.
Don’t say we weren’t warned. In an effort to scare people about Syrian refugees, Donald Trump is fond of reading a poem called “The Snake,” about a women who saves a snake, only to have him turn on her.
“‘Oh shut up, silly woman,’ said the reptile with a grin. ‘You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in,’” the poem concludes.
This is an allegory that Ryan (who is still technically endorsing Trump) and RNC Chairman Reince Preibus should recognize. They knew who he was before they let him in.
For the Party of Lincoln, a viper is already at our bosom.
Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis.