As Donald Trump continues his assertions that the November election is "absolutely being rigged" against him, both "by the dishonest media" and at "many polling places", let's take a moment here to marvel at the rank cowardice of, in particular, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Throughout the media, journalists and others are warning of the inherent dangerousness of pushing such claims. The Associated Press has highlighted the dangerous falsehoods, CNN's Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter has as well, historians like Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin believe it to be unprecedented, election lawyer Chris Ashby wrote a long explanation of just why Trump's notions of potential fraud are completely implausible.
Everyone with a scrap of dignity left is emphasizing just how irresponsible Trump and his surrogates (Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Sen. Jeff Sessions, and assorted allied conspiracy theorists) is being with this particular lie. Top Republicans, however, aren't among those people. Mitch McConnell has clammed up completely, refusing to discuss Trump, while Paul Ryan's office managed only a short, mealymouthed statement that he is "fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity".
Why did his spokesperson feel the need to issue such a statement? Because on Friday, Paul Ryan was not so much distancing himself from Trump as echoing him, giving a speech to College Republicans in which he too warned that Democrats "rig the system"—that they want an America where "government is taken away from the people." It turns out that Paul Ryan is not as different from Donald Trump as Paul Ryan's press materials keep insisting.
On the contrary, while Ryan is going out of his way to distance himself from Trump, the person, he's not distancing himself from Trump's lunatic theories. He's just ignoring them.
Which is the opposite of leadership. Perhaps Sen. Mitch McConnell feels that by ignoring Trump he can wash his hands of what party has become—that he can selectively endorse the tax plans, while humming loudly at the racism and conspiratorial obsessions. Perhaps Paul Ryan feels the same, or perhaps his objection to Trump isn't that Trump is saying irresponsible things like charging his opponents will "rig the system", he's just saying them in the wrong tone of voice.
Who knows? So let's just lift a glass to the rank cowardice of these Republican leaders. They're smart enough to know that Trump's claims of rigged elections are dangerous ground to tread, but neither principled nor courageous enough to defy Trump's new all-conspiracy, all-the-time attempt to burn the election down rather than admit to losing it.