If you are tired of reading headlines about the Khan family or crying babies, Donald Trump has reset the news cycle yet again: he pointedly refused to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, ahead of their primaries.
The Washington Post described Trump's non-endorsement of Ryan "an extraordinary breach of political decorum," a phrase that could apply to much of the New York businessman's presidential campaign.
Ever a master at the art of trolling, Trump said "I'm not quite there yet" when declining to offer Ryan support — echoing language the speaker himself used while he was weighing an endorsement after Trump effectively clinched the nomination.
Conservatives on social media quickly recalled Trump's history of giving to Democratic candidates, suggesting it's no surprise he hasn't come to the aid of GOP incumbents.
But there are a few things to consider here. One is that Ryan's primary challenger Paul Nehlen is a Trump supporter whose candidacy has been boosted by populist, national conservative websites like Breitbart. Kelli Ward, one of McCain's primary opponents, has also been supportive.
While McCain denounced Trump's comments about the Khans, Ward issued a statement calling the controversy a "cynical political stunt cooked up by the Clinton Establishment, and, sadly, John McCain has fallen right into it." Ward questioned whether McCain really wants Trump to beat Hillary Clinton in November.
"The Khans' anger should be directed against those who sent their son into an unnecessary war, like Hillary Clinton and John McCain whose reckless policies and fuzzy Utopian ideals have destabilized the Middle East and triggered a massive refugee crisis, which they want to import into the U.S. to fatten up the welfare rolls," Ward said. "Donald Trump was publicly against the Iraq War and wants to keep Islamist-infiltrated refugees out of our country without proper security screening."
Ryan and McCain have endorsed Trump for president over Clinton, although neither supported him in the primaries. But they have both frequently criticized him after offering their backing, with Ryan calling Trump's statements about Judge Gonzalo Curiel a textbook example of a racist comment.
Arguably, lukewarm endorsements have cost Trump more than "Never Trump." They don't take his side in media controversies. They don't consistently defend him from Democratic charges. And when they rebuke him, they create a greater sense that the Republican Party is in disarray.
Trump may bring all this on himself with repeated comments that are hard to defend. But it isn't shocking that he doesn't like timorous GOP leaders declining to support him as wholeheartedly as Democratic leaders back Clinton.
Just because it makes logical sense, however, doesn't mean it makes political sense. Aside from pushing the Khan family out of the headlines it's hard to see what Trump gets out of this. McCain is unpredictable and it creates an opening for him to rescind his endorsement. And is the latest example of Trump's troubling inability to keep his eye on the ball.
Consider Trump's noncommittal statement about a third Republican incumbent, this one facing a Democrat in the general election. "I don't know Kelly Ayotte," Trump said of the New Hampshire senator. "I know she's given me no support — zero support — and yet I'm leading her in the polls. "
Not only has Trump shown an inability to put the primaries behind him. He is more concerned about where he is in New Hampshire's polls in relation to a fellow Republican than Clinton, the Democrat he is supposed to be trying to defeat.
Trump's vision of the Republican Party is very different from Ryan or McCain's. But he actually has to win to implement it.