Now that Speaker Paul Ryan has roundly thumped GOP primary rival Paul Nehlen in his home district in Wisconsin, what does it mean?

There has been a fair bit written on how Ryan’s campaign team deftly managed the potential challenges that Nehlen’s surprise run involved. In other words, they managed to easily avoid a repeat of Cantor’s stunning upset loss in Virginia 2 years ago. All this while facing similar dangers: supposedly out of touch D.C. politician, voter anger on support for free trade, and anger at support for some form of amnesty for illegals.

So that’s the why behind Ryan’s winter beard, which graced his hirsute presence at sporting events. Complete with a little camouflage. The thing is, Ryan is not just play acting – yes his campaign did some spinning – but rather he is known and respected and seen as authentic by his voters back home. Cantor’s team would surely say the same, of course, but somehow Brat was able to paint Cantor as an outsider.

But the main issue may just be that Wisconsin is not Virginia. And Virginia is not Wisconsin. And when you throw Trump into the mix, his support for Nehlen surely backfired, or did little to move the needle in a state that does not poll well for the GOP presidential nominee.

The real lesson from Ryan’s resounding win in what should have been a little-noticed primary, is that it is another marker in the struggle for the future of the Republican Party. And Ryan has played his reluctant hero card very skillfully in the long 3 months between Trump sealing the nomination in Indiana and his own primary win in Wisconsin. A lot has happened in these past 3 months: two conventions and more than a fair share of controversies that have put the Speaker of The House in the media spotlight, having to comment on every tweet of his party’s nominee.

Has Ryan shown grace under pressure during his trial by fire as Speaker? For NeverTrump’ers he has not been nearly tough enough on Trump – savagely dismissive enough would be more like it – for their liking. For Trump and his team, he has been far too distant and neutral, and openly critical of the nominee on some issues.

Try this thought exercise: imagine Ted Cruz somehow as Speaker of the House. Would we already have two wings of the GOP openly waging war on each other? Umm … ok maybe we sort of already do. But it would be a far more volatile confrontation with serious talk of splitting the party in two.

And imagine this: Carly Fiorina manages to grab the RNC chairmanship from Reince Priebus, who may not feel inclined to run again. And imagine Mitch McConnell just manages to hold onto his job as majority leader in the Senate, by keeping down-ticket races clear of Trump’s campaign. Ryan in the House. Mitch in the Senate. Carly at RNC. If Trump miraculously manages to right his campaign and somehow stay on message, winning the White House will be easy compared to governing. Because as victor he will have to unite the GOP, once in the White House. He will have no choice. Won’t he?

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