Paul Ryan claims he was “sickened” by Donald Trump’s remarks in a 2005 recording in which Trump brags about using his celebrity status to grope unsuspecting women. But by declining to immediately withdraw his endorsement of the Republican presidential nominee, the House speaker missed a chance to take a principled stand.
Ryan has worked to brand himself as a compassionate conservative—a lawmaker who has put forward an agenda to improve the lives of everyday Americans while promoting conservative values. After failing to fully withdraw support for Trump in the wake of his comments—which degrade women and seem to glorify sexual assault—it will be far more difficult for Ryan to credibly promote himself that way. Especially when other Republicans, like senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, have used this latest controversy as an opportunity to jump ship and pull their support from the GOP nominee.
Despite assertions to the contrary, Ryan has not abandoned Trump so long as he continues to endorse him. An endorsement is, after all, an implicit approval of what a candidate says and does. So far, Trump’s campaign has included attacks on a Gold Star family, accusations of ethnic bias against a judge, and threats to jail Hillary Clinton. Ryan can condemn Trump’s remarks all he likes. But if he maintains his endorsement going forward, he’ll be asked to answer for Trump all the same. The Clinton campaign is certainly trying to tie Ryan to Trump over the endorsement, as the Republican nominee’s standing in the polls slips and Democrats attempt to retake the House.