Paul Ryan barely knows Donald Trump, and yet he’s on the verge of gambling his and his party’s political future on him.
Following back-to-back meetings at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters with Trump Thursday morning, Ryan gave the first sign that he is warming to his party’s nominee for president.
“I am very encouraged. I heard a lot of good things from our presumptive nominee,” Ryan said during his press conference Thursday shortly after the meeting.
But unification is a funny thing. Just as Ryan is more open to Trump than ever, he is doing everything he can to say he won’t be following Trump’s lead blindly, an attempt to preserve his and his party’s future and reputations.
Ryan has been clear that he is focused on his speakership and not on presidential ambitions, but fully endorsing Trump could be problematic for Ryan’s political career down the road. A prolific fundraiser with deep ties to all wings of the party, Ryan has a lot to lose if he endorses Trump and the nominee’s bid for the White House goes poorly.
Already, Ryan has had to distance his party from Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims and Trump’s embrace by the likes of former KKK leader David Duke. There is no predicting what could happen over the next six months in Trump’s campaign that could leave Ryan vulnerable to being linked to a carnival barker.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2016
Ryan emphasized Thursday that he believed he and Trump could come together to agree on basic principles for the Republican Party, but on policy? Ryan wasn’t going there.
“We exchanged differences on a number of things that everybody knows we have,” Ryan said at his presser. “There are policy disputes that we will have. There is no two ways about it. Plenty of Republicans disagree with one another on policy disputes.”
Ryan and Trump have disagreed in the past on core Republican policies everything from trade to immigration to Trump’s plan to ban Muslims. Those major policy gulfs can’t be glossed over in the months ahead. Yet, Ryan has little choice but to eventually come around to Trump. Already, some of Ryan’s Republican colleagues have expressed disappointment Ryan hesitated at all, and Trump has received more votes in the primary than any other modern Republican nominee.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Thursday that even as Ryan learns more about Trump, the speaker will follow through with his commitment to roll out a House Republican agenda ahead of the Republican convention in Cleveland. Strong said that policy advisers in Ryan’s office would be in communication with Trump’s team going forward, but it did not appear Trump would have much influence on the House’s policy report.
“We’re pretty well ahead of that process and sort of winding down the policy prescription process so I suspect that is nearing a conclusion and almost ready to be released,” Strong said. “Speaker Ryan has always said we are uniting around House Republican principles.”
The policy agenda could give endangered Republicans running for re-election an alternative to Trump to point to, but it also underscores how full unification behind Trump’s ideas may never happen within the party.
Ryan has said it’s important that the party doesn’t “fake” that process.
“It’s very important that we don’t fake unifying, we don’t pretend unification, that we truly and actually unify so we are full strength in the fall,” he said in the press conference. “I want to make sure that we really, truly understand each other.”