Add Paul Ryan to the list of Republicans refusing to jump on the Donald Trump bandwagon. Today the Speaker of the House said he was “not ready” to endorse the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee. He “would like to” but Ryan needed to see more.

Trump, of course, shot back. He’s not ready to “support Ryan’s agenda.”

Beyond the bravado, the tough talk, and the real fear of the demise of many political careers, there is something larger going on here. This is an epochal moment in both political parties’ history—and our democracy.

Democrats and Republicans are in trouble. Millions of Americans are fed up, and it isn’t just the middle class. The new “have-nots” are working for less and are worried about not being able to provide for the security and future of their children.

Millennials, many of whom are non-white, are having trouble getting started in a transitional economy straddled with bundles of debt. It doesn’t look like they blame anyone in particular—President Barack Obama maintains respectable approval ratings—but there is a realization that the people they’ve elected, and like personally, appear to be swallowed up by a system more focused on sustaining itself than actually solving problems.

Democrats, at least right now, may be the beneficiaries of a GOP that looks like it is falling apart—except that the left is on the verge of nominating someone who defines an establishment that many voters no longer believe in. It isn’t just the two probable nominees who are distrusted, it is what the entire election represents.

On the GOP side, Trump’s campaign is fueled by his attacks on his own party and its leadership. His consultants want him to “act presidential” and make peace with the Republican elites, if only to consolidate the various factions of his base. Counter-punching your party’s own Speaker doesn’t provide much optimism of this actually happening.

If the real estate mogul has gotten this far by doing the complete opposite, why would he stop? If he starts making overtures, lowering his voice and moving to the center, doesn’t he lose the support of his most passionate, non-compromising, take-no-prisoners supporters?

All the rules have been broken this year and a defiant Trump just keeps marching on. It is hard to bet against success, but it is hard to see how this works in November. Samuel Popkin’s classic The Rational Voter noted years ago that when voters go to the polls, they ultimately decide on the basis of two important questions: What have you done for me lately?; and what will you do for me next?

It’s hard to see how a presidential nominee and the Speaker of the House at odds with each other promise much of anything meaningful to voters. This might be the year the “rational voter” finally throws in the towel and declares that the whole thing is corrupt, needs a thorough cleansing, and the most effective way to deal with the mess so leaders will listen is to do the most outrageous thing possible—nominate and elect someone who playfully exposes a system that has failed too many times.

How this is a good thing, I’m not sure. But I’ll continue to watch closely.

And meanwhile the Democrats have yet to resolve their own problems. What else can explain the popularity of a 74 year old Democratic socialist giving the “next President” a real run for her money?


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