Speaker of the House Paul Ryan held back his endorsement of GOP presumptive-nominee Donald Trump. He did so publicly, and without prior warning to Reince Priebus or the Trump campaign. Now he has invited Trump to a meeting this Thursday. What does Ryan want from Trump?
I've invited @realDonaldTrump for a meeting with GOP leaders next week, and I look forward to the discussion.
— Paul Ryan (@PRyan) May 6, 2016
Inherited or won?
The Speaker said that Trump “inherited” the party, which set Trump off, because that’s not the billionaire’s preferred narrative.
Paul Ryan said that I inherited something very special, the Republican Party. Wrong, I didn't inherit it, I won it with millions of voters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 6, 2016
Given that Trump has not won a plurality of votes overall in the primaries, and has only exceeded 50 percent in states where Republican registration is low overall, “I won” is a weak argument. Inherited may be a more correct term, given that Trump simultaneously opposed and played the same rules which benefited him.
Perhaps Ryan wants Trump to know who’s boss, at least in Cleveland. Ryan will hold the gavel for the convention, and he may want Trump to do a better job marshaling and containing his supporters from being disruptive. The convention already is becoming more of a freak show than a coronation.
For Ryan to flex his congressional muscle this early in the general election run would be a mistake. In a battle of wills, the possible new president will take the field from the sitting Speaker, if they’re in the same party. Paul Ryan is no Newt Gingrich, and Gingrich is a Trump supporter. There’s not much for Ryan to gain there.
Wisconsin and Ted Cruz
Ryan faces almost no useful Democratic opposition in his 2016 reelection bid. Democrat Tom Breu is a cipher. But he does face a fairly serious primary challenger in Paul Nehlen, a Trump soundalike and businessman. From Breitbart, which promotes all things Trump:
Nehlen cited the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as one of the primary reasons for calling Ryan “the enemy”: “It’s going to send our jobs overseas, and even worse, it’s going to import foreign workers to replace us in our jobs here at home,” said Nehlen. He also recounted his recent visit to Abbott Labs in Wisconsin. Nehlen said he would look to “lock down” visa programs based on abuse and the cost to American workers:
Nehlen called Speaker Paul Ryan “a mercenary champion of this Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership,” adding:
And that’s why I’m running. … I was outside Abbott Labs just a week-and-a-half ago. … One hundred eighty employees, IT workers, Americans, have been replaced by H1-B visa holders. I was there with Michelle Malkin and Sara Blackwell, an attorney out of Florida who is donating her time pro bono filing EOC complaints [on behalf of the American losing their jobs].
“The jobs aren’t going away,” said Nehlen. “They’re bringing in people to replace Americans in those jobs. And this Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, it makes it worse.” He elaborated by saying, “It codifies the opportunity for them to bring workers here and replace us. They won’t even have to go through the paperwork of filing H1 Visa forms.”
We might expect that if Ryan stands against Trump, Trump might endorse Nehlen. Then again, voters in Wisconsin’s 1st district, which Ryan represents, aren’t all that into Donald Trump.
In the primary, Ted Cruz took 49.5 percent of the vote, beating Trump by nearly 18 points. Trump’s endorsement of Nehlen may help Ryan more than hurt, and such a dart thrown at the Speaker of the House might not win Trump too many points nationally.
Ryan is more likely standing by his constituency. He will do his best to ensure Trump gives Cruz credit at the convention, in exchange for Cruz keeping his GOP pledge. In fact, Ryan may very well be the broker here.
The broker and Priebus
Reince Priebus is in a hard place. He’s kissed Trump’s ring, and given the order to sweep the decks of mutineers. But the Bushes and Lindsey Graham have already joined Mitt Romney in boycotting the convention and declaring their #NeverTrump intentions.
Chairman Priebus is going to have a hard time keeping the party together. Speaker Ryan has a much better chance at brokering some kind of unity–or at least a cease-fire. The first ballot will be directed by his gavel, and candidates for vice president will be placed into nomination according to House rules, which makes him a strong master.
The party platform, delegate rules, and other business will be presided over by Ryan. If things get ugly, it will be Ryan’s job to restore order.
#NeverTrumpers (myself included) have been ridiculed by Priebus (see David French’s response to this). Ryan still has his conservative street creds somewhat intact, while Priebus is now perceived as one of Trump’s minions.
Thursday’s meeting may be an attempt to broker the party, create some form of unity, while forcing Trump to do something he’s never done: acknowledge the #NeverTrump movement’s legitimacy and address some of our concerns.
I hope Ryan is up to the task.