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Paul Ryan's bummer summer

Despite a massive victory in his Republican primary last week, it's been a lousy, diminishing summer for Paul Ryan.

After making a show of delaying his endorsement of Donald Trump, Ryan has spent weeks attempting to bridge divides between the Trump campaign and factions in the Republican Party that are openly hostile to his candidacy.

Still, nobody's happy.

Trump's bid for GOP unity 03:18

"I think he's learning now how difficult it is to walk a tightrope," Charlie Sykes, an influential conservative radio host in Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, told CBS News. "His support for Trump is obviously damaging his brand as a moral and intellectual leader of the party. And it appears to be scoring him few points with the Trumpkins."

Sykes, who has covered and supported Ryan for years, added that Ryan's current position leading the "sane wing of the Republican Party" while still holding on to the rest of the GOP base may be "untenable."

The latest round of strife between the the country's two most prominent Republican political figures started earlier this month when Trump injected himself into Ryan's primary race.

A week before the primary, Trump sent a tweet to Ryan's challenger, Paul Nehlen, thanking him for his "kind words," which prompted questions about whether the Republican nominee would back Ryan or, in an unprecedented move, support his unknown contender.

When asked, Trump said "I am just not there yet," leading to days of speculation over whether the uneasy peace between Republican Speaker of the House and the GOP nominee was officially over.

More Trump backlash 06:08

Trump did eventually endorse Ryan after several days of pressure. Ryan, who is popular in his district and was considered a shoe-in for reelection despite Trump's praise of Nehlen, went on to win by 68 points.

Trump's running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who served with Ryan for twelve years in the House, tried to explain the apparent discord simply as Ryan and Trump "still getting to know each other." Still, regardless of whether their relationship improves, the rise of Trump appears to have forced Ryan to forsake his role as a unifying figure in his bitterly divided party.

Unlike Mitch McConnell, who quickly endorsed Trump to little fanfare last Spring, Ryan delayed his decision, which alienated pro-Trump Republicans. A few weeks later, Ryan announced that he was endorsing Trump, angering anti-Trump conservatives who had rallied to him after he initially declined to support the mogul.

Ryan endorsement was likely inevitable -- he was the chairman of Republican convention, after all -- but embracing Trump has brought nothing but headaches as he tries to hold onto his majority in the House.

Since endorsing Trump in June, Ryan has regularly found himself, however halfheartedly, trying to defend the gaffe-prone Republican nominee. Case in point: The night Ryan defeated Nehlen, he found himself trying to explain Trump's statement that "2nd Amendment people" might be able to prevent Hillary Clinton from appoint judges.

"Yeah, I've been a little busy today," Ryan told reporters. "I heard about this Second Amendment quote. It sounds like just a joke gone bad. I hope he clears it up very quickly. You should never joke about something like that."

Last week, Jonathan Last argued in the Weekly Standard, a conservative publication that's been extremely critical of Trump, that Ryan has left those Republicans looking for an escape plan, down in the trenches with no way out.

"Worst of all has been Ryan's influence on the resistance," Last wrote. "When Ryan began his Trumpian odyssey, he gave cover to Republicans who wanted to resist Trump. But today, as Ryan issues his demurrals about Judge Curiel or the Khan family or whatever other outrage Trump has uttered--yet refuses to withdraw his endorsement--he has become part of the structure that keeps wavering Republicans from leaving Trump."

Other anti-Trump conservative writers are similarly critical, such as The New York Times' Ross Douthat, who wrote earlier this month that "more than most politicians Ryan has always laid claim to a mix of moral and substantive authority; more than most he has sold himself to the right's intelligentsia and the centrist media as one of Washington's men of principle. And both that authority and that brand are being laid waste in this campaign."

Pro-Trump Republicans, meanwhile, have also attacked Ryan, delighting in his travails despite his endorsement of the mogul.

Polls on Clinton 01:51

"The sitting Speaker of the House...has been brought to his knees, bowing down before the almighty nationalist populist movement, as his life's work--a career in politics--flashes before his eyes," pro-Trump Breitbart editor Matthew Boyle wrote on the day of Ryan's primary. "Regardless of what happens as results start trickling in...Ryan has been forced by Republican businessman Paul Nehlen--his primary challenger--to kiss the ring of nationalist populism in order to fight for his political career."

Tim Miller, a veteran GOP strategist and a leader of the conservative #NeverTrump movement, sees Ryan as "stuck" but remains hopeful that he would be an effective counterweight to a Hillary Clinton White House.

"Speaker Ryan is stuck in a tough position with regards to Trump. He could not lead the GOP caucus while actively opposing the nominee." Miller explained, adding this prediction. "After the inevitable Trump landslide defeat, hopefully he will be in a position to move the House caucus towards an agenda that can once again allow us to win national elections."

There are also some, like veteran Republican strategist Liz Mair, who see Ryan simply doing what he has to to survive -- even if he takes a hit personally in the short term.

"Overall [Ryan] has managed to conduct himself in a way that signals his support for Trump really is nominal, that he knows Trump's going to lose, and that he is expending exactly zero effort on doing anything to help the guy," Mair said. "That may mean a slight hit to his credibility, but maybe not much."

Mair predicted that once the dust settles after a Trump loss in November, people will forget the details and just "remember the broad brush stuff, which I'm guessing will lead a lot of people to think he didn't ever or didn't really back Trump".

Contacted for this article, a Ryan aide would say only that he "is staying true to who he is and working to ensure we maintain a strong House majority." It's true Ryan is still popular among Republicans nationally -- his approval rating among them was 71 percent in a July Gallup poll, while 54 percent of Wisconsinites approved of him in a Marquette poll. But even if Ryan emerges from 2016 largely unscathed, Sykes thinks the best thing Ryan could do for himself is abandon ship.

"Frankly, part of me thinks that he would be better off leaving Washington and spending the next few years in the wilderness, while the two parties tear themselves to shreds." Sykes said. "Because nobody comes out of this looking very good."

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