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Paul Ryan is out. So now what?

Has the GOP already accepted defeat in this presidential election? It sure seems like it. And that means a long overdue reformation of the party is in order.

House Speaker Paul Ryan
Yuri Gripas | Reuters
House Speaker Paul Ryan

I'm not sure this even needs to be said anymore, but here it is: Donald Trump will not, cannot, and simply has no chance to win the presidential election. His inability to tamp down his divisive rhetoric tells us this. His blundering and inexperienced campaign team tells us this. And most importantly, his failure to overtake even the astoundingly weak Hillary Clinton in 27 straight general election polls now tells us this.

The problem is, he's still going to walk into the Republican National Convention in July with the most delegates of any of the GOP presidential candidates. And House Speaker Paul Ryan's convincing announcement that he will not run for president seems to be negating not only Ryan as a late-arriving savior but just about everyone else who might come late to this party as a compromise candidate.


Hard-core political types can often be out of touch and ideologically delusional, but one thing every politician knows how to do is read the darn polls. And Trump's polls are historically weak for any frontrunner for either party's presidential nomination this far out from the general election. Even monumental general election losers like Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988 led in at least a few polls at this stage in the election calendar. For Trump not only to be behind in every poll, but down by double digits in almost all them, presages what looks like a 40-state/400+ electoral vote landslide for the almost-just-as-disliked Clinton.

There is still a good chance that an energetic and dramatic contested convention will give the Republicans and the eventual nominee a great shot in the arm and shake up the election. But even an epic 100-plus ballot victory could not boost Trump over his massive negative ratings. And Ted Cruz is not really doing that much better in the polls vs. Clinton on top of the fact that he, too, is virtually impossible to rebrand. The immediate plan to stage a truly contested convention gives the GOP a puncher's chance to win in November, but that's it. Now that Ryan has bowed out, the GOP's chances are slim and none ... and slim just walked out the door.


But the news isn't all bad for Republicans. Landslide electoral losses are tough pills to swallow, but they are so much more instructive than the relatively close presidential elections that have been the norm over the last 16 years. Election returns are like earnings reports: If they can be fudged or manipulated because they're not very clear, they don't hold much informative value to truly curious investors. And when your party keeps winning or even losing close elections, you can convince yourself that only a small tweak here and there is needed. But lose three 400-plus electoral vote elections in a row like the Democrats did in 1980, 1984, and 1988, and you get a much-needed soul searching. That process brought the Democrats to Bill Clinton, who took the party away from its ruinous anti-business path and made the party relevant again.

The Republicans are long overdue for such a revamp. Some may think Trump is that reformer, but a change in message and candidate that ends up weakening your party in the polls is clearly not the answer.

Speaker Ryan hinted at some of what that new answer might sound like at his news conference on Tuesday and it sure seemed like a lot more of an electable message than what we tend to hear from Trump and Cruz. It was a lot more conciliatory and focused on enacting economic policies that actually work. It left the wedge issues, religion, and insults out of it.


In the stock market, when the bulls have all finally given up on a pipe dream of a rally, we call it "capitulation." It's a rough process, but it signals the beginning of renewal. Ryan's hints at capitulation yesterday similarly are not the harbinger of the death of the Republican Party, but its rebirth.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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