Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE's (R-Wis.) reluctance to endorse presumptive nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial MORE has escalated an already-bruising and self-defeating internal battle within the GOP. After a scorched-earth primary that saw the reality television star berate, demean and insult his way to the front of a deeply fractured field, Trump has turned his ire on the Speaker of the House. Now the two most powerful members of the Republican Party are locked in a heated war of words and, already, members of the party are picking sides in this face-off of epic proportions. This particular battle — unlike previous rifts that have blown open since Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential defeat — could potentially drag on through the GOP convention and into the fall campaign season. If so, it will undoubtedly shape the outcome of the race for the White House, Senate and quite possibly the House of Representatives.


Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has already cast her lot with Trump and has Ryan in her political cross hairs. The former Alaska governor is threatening to "Cantor" the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, referencing former House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorRepublicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia Virginia emerging as ground zero in battle for House majority McAuliffe's loss exposes deepening Democratic rift MORE (R-Va.)'s primary loss to a Tea Party conservative in 2014. In addition to Palin, some of Ryan's colleagues have derided the Wisconsin lawmaker for his comments, suggesting that Ryan, not Trump, is hindering the party unification process. However, as the enmity has flowed in Ryan's direction from many within his own caucus, he is not without his supporters. Elder statesmen, including former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, have declined to attend this year's nominating convention in Cleveland and members of the "Never Trump" movement — a bevy of conservatives who have actively campaigned against the billionaire mogul's candidacy — are applauding the House Speaker's actions.

Unceasing rebukes and never-ending threats have replaced limited government and strict adherence to the Constitution as the hallmarks of the Republican Party as this GOP civil war has raged on for nearly four years. The incessant disunity and discord barreling through the party could be the possible death knell for the GOP as a national force for conservative politics. Major Republican donors such as the Koch brothers — with more than $250 million budgeted for the fall campaign season — plan to sit on the sidelines in opposition to Trump's ascension as the GOP standard-bearer. Perhaps more surprising, some prominent members on the right are publicly stating their intentions to cross the aisle and vote for likely Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE in November.

Even more troubling, this brouhaha between Ryan and Trump comes at a time when a unified GOP is most crucial to not only taking back the White House, but also maintaining control of both the Senate and House. Senate Republicans are defending 24 seats compared to only 10 for the Democrats; seven are in states President Obama carried twice. Should more donors and voters stay on the sidelines as a result of continued in-fighting, there is a growing probability that Democrats take control of the Senate. Even the House Republican majority, the largest since before the New Deal, is in jeopardy of losing seats to Democrats as a result of the deep fissures plaguing the GOP.

The rift between the GOP's most high-profile pols is real and if it continues unabated, Republicans could be looking at a historic wipeout in November. Ryan's fierce guardianship of the Republican House majority, along with his own future presidential ambitions, are being threatened by a Trump candidacy. Meanwhile, his unwillingness to endorse the presumptive nominee is viewed by many within the base, not to mention Trump himself, as rocket-fuel for a Clinton presidential candidacy. However, a glimmer of hope exist as the two party leaders met in Washington recently to begin the delicate process of ironing out differences and potentially unifying a deeply fractured party. Yet major differences remain and the Clinton machine — with major fence-mending to do of its own — awaits.

The latest blockbuster from Marvel, "Captain America: Civil War" — albeit fiction — illustrates the damage and carnage done by warring internal factions. Again, although fiction, it could portend the direction for the Republican Party should a pathway to unity and cohesion fail to materialize. More importantly, the deep scars and irreparable damage cast upon the GOP — should its two most powerful figures escalate their feud, a la Captain America and Iron Man — could lead to an implosion of the national party, leaving an unchecked Democratic Party in its wake. The Republican Party clearly hangs in the balance and with it, the nation.

Ham is a national political commentator and analyst with Sirius XM Radio and BBC International. He is the author of the bestselling book, "The GOP Civil War: Inside the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party." Follow him on Twitter @EKH2016.