KEY POINT: The reporter, Neil Johnson, sought clarification on Johnson's position and replied, “OK. But is what you call support of Trump the same as an endorsement?”


It was a simple question deserving of a simple answer, but Johnson offered a cagey response.

“Look, when you're out there trying to do anything you can to get the 10 (Wisconsin) electoral votes assigned to Donald Trump, I think it's pretty strong support.”

Wow, that's almost an endorsement—“pretty strong support.” We imagine an official endorsement follows the next rung on the ladder, “super-duper strong support.”


July 26, 2016
http://www.gazettextra.com/20160726/our_views_johnson_ryan_perform_awkward_trump_dance

Whether Sen. Ron Johnson and House Speaker Paul Ryan endorse Donald Trump is not the issue.

It's their use of semantics—seeking to simultaneously embrace the Republican presidential nominee and distance themselves from him—that we find both grating and amusing.

Johnson displayed this obnoxious habit during his visit to Janesville last week when he sidestepped a Gazette reporter's question about whether he endorsed Trump.

“I've always said I was going to support the Republican nominee,” he said before hitting on the usual Republican talking points such as repealing Obamacare.

The reporter, Neil Johnson, sought clarification on Johnson's position and replied, “OK. But is what you call support of Trump the same as an endorsement?”

It was a simple question deserving of a simple answer, but Johnson offered a cagey response.

“Look, when you're out there trying to do anything you can to get the 10 (Wisconsin) electoral votes assigned to Donald Trump, I think it's pretty strong support.”

Wow, that's almost an endorsement—“pretty strong support.” We imagine an official endorsement follows the next rung on the ladder, “super-duper strong support.”

To watch Republicans attempt to navigate the minefield between their own belief systems and Trump is like watching a schoolteacher question a first-grader suspected of stealing his best friend's Twinkie. It's awkward and entertaining all at once.

Johnson and Ryan find fault in many of Trump's positions and statements, and yet they cannot bring themselves to oppose the candidate himself. For them to dwell publicly on their disagreements with Trump would reveal a gap so large as to beg the question, “Why would they support Trump?”

Ryan announced his endorsement of Trump in a column published June 2 in The Gazette. It was big news at the time because Ryan had previously said he wasn't ready to endorse the then-presumptive nominee.

But if you read Ryan's column, it only vaguely reads as endorsement, which is why The Gazette had to contact Ryan's staff to confirm that the column was indeed Ryan's endorsement of Trump.

The majority of Ryan's column acts as an introduction for a set of policies Ryan believes will usher in a “positive, optimistic vision for a more confident America.”

His larger point seems to be that his agenda would have a better chance of succeeding with Trump as president than it would with Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, essentially a lesser-of-two-evils argument. Ryan's strongest statement of support for Trump comes with Ryan stating he will be voting for Trump this fall.

Both Johnson and Ryan spoke at the GOP Convention in Cleveland, which means they've managed to stay in Trump's good graces. We know what happens to candidates who voice dissention, as Sen. Ted Cruz learned. He was booed off the convention stage, and Trump later announced plans to create super PACs to end the political careers of Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who snubbed Trump by refusing to attend the convention.

In Trump's world, you are either with him or against him. Up to this point, Ryan and Johnson have tried to avoid coming down strongly in pro-Trump or anti-Trump camps, but they might lose that luxury if Trump wins in the fall.

Even “pretty strong support” for Trump could be viewed as opposition.