Trump has turned his brand to crap. He's going to have to start selling Trump Fried Chicken or blowup sex toys for his new crowd, but the upscale consumers he's always cultivated seem done with him. This week, New York Magazine explained how his brand is sinking along with his poll numbers. “If Trump hoped his campaign would elevate the value of his brand, it looks like just the opposite is happening,” reported Michelle Celarier.
Take Trump’s latest, most lavish venture: the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which has become a focal point for grievances against the unconventional Republican presidential candidate.
The 263-room five-star hotel in the historic Old Post Office building opened last month. But even with a prime location near the White House, swanky interiors, and aggressive promotion by the candidate himself, empty rooms have forced the hotel to reduce rates during a peak season. At the same time, the hotel has lost two planned restaurants, Hispanic employees are making claims of discrimination, and protesters are gearing up to do whatever they can to cause trouble for the hotel.
This summer I was in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. The brand new Trump Tower there opened and went bust in one week and is now closed down– a gigantic, gaudy monstrosity in the middle of the skyline– empty. When I tried to book a room there today through TripAdvisor, this is the message that came up:
But it isn't only his own brand that Trump's campaign is destroying. The Republican Party itself appears to be in severe trouble and the careers of God-knows-how-many GOP politicians are being flushed down the toilet with Trump and his Alt-right allies. Jerry Falwell, Jr, a deranged Trump surrogate, has floated a conspiracy theory– which Trump has now picked up on– that the Trump “grab-her-pussy” tape was orchestrated by Paul Ryan, Politico makes the point that Ryan has gotten caught up in the Trump maelstrom and that his future doesn't look as promising today as it did a year ago.
With GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump cratering in the polls and the House Republican majority at serious risk, Ryan's post-election career could take a number of different turns after Nov. 8– none of them especially attractive. And as Ryan goes, so will Washington governance over the next few years.
Here's a look at the three strongest possibilities for his immediate future:
Ryan retains slim House majority
The most likely scenario is that the House GOP loses from 10 to 20 seats on Election Day but maintains a slimmed down majority.
That would make Ryan’s job– hardly a walk in the park now– a whole lot trickier.
If Trump loses to Clinton in a landslide, a sizable number of Republicans could go down with him. That would leave Ryan scrambling to round up the votes to keep his gavel. He needs 218 Republicans to vote for him on the floor to become speaker in the next Congress. And while goodwill helped him clear that bar last year, the honeymoon is over.
…If he makes it to 218, the speakership election would be just the start of Ryan’s problems. Being in charge of a smaller majority would force Ryan to completely own any deals he cuts with a Clinton White House. That's certain to create friction in his ranks– and could complicate his political future.
The rabble-rousing Freedom Caucus will make up a larger percentage of a diminished conference, which could push the House GOP to the right as the rest of Washington lurches to the left.
Ryan would have a weak hand in negotiations with Democrats, too. It’s already become Washington conventional wisdom that House Republicans don’t fall in line behind their leader– a dynamic which could give his negotiating partners a leg up.
“You’re going to get a very unpopular president … and you’re going to have a smaller yet more conservative House majority,” said a former House leadership staffer. “And the margin for error for Republican leaders is going to be so, so thin… It will be difficult for them to do the basics of governing, from funding the government to reauthorizing noncontroversial programs.”
Ryan leaves Congress
There's a chance– an outside chance, most of his allies say– that Ryan could call it quits.
One theory is that Ryan will step aside if Republicans balk at returning him to the speaker's chair, or make him jump over impossibly high hurdles to get there. This was never Ryan's dream job, and he's unlikely to allow conservatives to twist his arm.
“Paul will never be taken hostage by those guys,” said a top GOP lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He will either be able to govern or he will give up the job.”
The Wisconsin Republican's allies point to Ryan’s demand for GOP solidarity when he took over in November 2015 in the midst of the crisis sparked by Boehner's exit. Even then, nine Republicans voted against him.
Consider this: None of the previous six speakers left of their own volition. Boehner, Newt Gingrich, Jim Wright, Tom Foley and Dennis Hastert were more or less forced out or lost their majority. Nancy Pelosi lost her gavel after an electoral bloodbath and stayed on as minority leader.
Retirement could actually help Ryan if he wants to run for president. He'd be free of the shackles of the Freedom Caucus, the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. He could continue to speak out on his pet issues and causes, on his own timetable: Being speaker forces Ryan into many battles he doesn’t want, often in reaction to events.
On the other hand, he'd lose an enormous national platform and have to fight every day for media attention that he’s guaranteed as speaker of the House.
…Minority Leader Paul Ryan
It’s become gallows humor in the House Republican Conference: Maybe, just maybe, Ryan would be better off as minority leader.
If Democrats take the majority, their margin is certain to be small, which means a House Minority Leader Paul Ryan would remain a serious force on Capitol Hill as the head of an empowered and aggrieved minority. There's a recent precedent for this: Pelosi slid from speaker to minority leader after the GOP's blowout win in 2010.
Ryan's own predilection is toward incremental progress. His minority would likely consist of 200-odd votes, which would give him a strong hand in negotiations with President Hillary Clinton and Pelosi. From what we know of Ryan’s legislative profile, he wouldn’t be like former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who decided to oppose President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus package chiefly for political purposes.
Ryan’s governing mantra is this, as voiced by the speaker himself in 2013 after he cut a massive budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.): “We came here to get something done. We always lock horns. We always argue. We never agree. I think it is about time, for once in a long time, we find common ground and agree.”
“Positive steps in the right direction,” Ryan is also known to say. Think small-bore corporate tax reform or modest entitlement tweaks, or something of that nature, in return for a boost in infrastructure spending. That's a deal Ryan could cut.
Ryan would also be freed from the internal political constraints that would otherwise hobble him in the majority. He would only have to earn half the conference’s support in an internal election to win the minority leader slot, as opposed to the 218 votes it takes to become speaker.
Being minority leader could also help him if decides to run for president in 2020. Being the guy who gets things done, but also stands up to Clinton, could allow him to straddle the two poles of the Republican Party and put his opponents in a tough spot. It’s not easy to run for the White House from the House minority, but Ryan has defied expectations before.
Of course, it would take a lot of dominoes to fall into place for this to happen. Democrats need to win 30 seats to boot the Republicans from the majority. Right now, top Republicans peg their losses somewhere between 10 and 20 seats. But they warn that 20 seats could quickly turn into 30 if Trump continues to focus on speaking to a narrow slice of the electorate that’s already supporting him.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis