Last week, Paul Ryan said he wasn’t “ready” to support Donald Trump. The GOP nominee responded by saying that he wasn’t ready to support “Paul Ryan’s agenda,” while one of his spokespeople questioned the Wisconsin congressman’s qualifications to be House Speaker. Sarah Palin went further, calling on tea-party patriots to toss Ryan from Capitol Hill. Angry Trump supporters filled the voice-mail boxes of their Republican representatives. Anti-Trump conservatives discussed third-party options on the Acela Express. Hillary Clinton aides toasted to the death of the GOP.
But on Monday, both men tried to deescalate their conflict. In an interview with CNN, Trump distanced himself from Palin’s suggestion that Ryan should be primaried and said that he’s “always liked” the Speaker. Ryan – who was rebuked by two top House allies for last week’s non-endorsement – offered to step down as convention chair if Trump requested. The House Speaker also told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he hoped to be able to support Trump following their meeting this Thursday. “I just want to get to know the guy,” he told the paper. “We just don’t know each other.”
Meanwhile, William J. Bennett, the former Reagan education secretary and Ryan confidante, said that the Speaker didn’t plan to make his endorsement of Trump contingent on specific policy demands. Rather, Ryan would be content if he and the Donald could merely reach consensus around a set of first principles:
It’s not at the level of specific policy. It’s not about immigration. It’s not about trade. It’s not about this tax proposal or that tax proposal. It’s at the level of principle … There are certain principles that define the Republican Party. First principles. Is there agreement there? Can there be, will there be agreement there?
One of the things we’re talking about [is] Article 1 [of the Constitution]. We’re talking about pro-life, we’re talking about limited government … Free enterprise, limited government, individual liberty, national defense, traditional values — there’s got to be agreement on the sort of the broad outlines there. If there is, there can be disagreement below that. Point clear?
Trump edged closer to those first principles on Monday, disavowing some noises he’d made over the weekend about raising taxes on rich people and reiterating his opposition to minimum-wage increases at the federal level. Then again, he also said that the U.S. can never default on its debt because it can always print money. This is an accurate statement, but it is one that undermines the “we’re becoming Greece” fear-mongering core to Ryan’s brand of fiscal politics (and, in fact, Ryan has described printing money to pay off the debt as the final step on the road to “financial collapse”). Plus, the Donald is still, ostensibly, campaigning on a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, and has reminded various outlets over the past week that he is “different from most Republicans” — and anyway, the Republican Party is not “called the Conservative Party.”
Still, it probably won’t be difficult for Ryan to persuade Trump to tell him what he wants to hear. The Donald knows how to cater to an audience. And then Ryan will have permission to say what Trump – and his House whips – want to hear. And then the GOP standard-bearer will carry on spouting contradictory positions until his campaign (and/or our republic) reaches its sorry end.