Paul Ryan has boarded the Trump Express.
No surprise there. It was inevitable that the House Speaker would back presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. But Ryan’s rationale was interesting. Trump, he said, is someone who can help make Ryan’s agenda a reality.
How on earth does Ryan know that? I want to ask him the same question I would ask all Trump supporters and detractors:
When you say you like or don’t like Trump or expect him to be your partner, which Trump are you talking about?
The Trump who said in a November debate that he was opposed to raising the minimum wage? Or the Trump who told CNN in May that he was considering a hike in the minimum wage?
The Trump who called for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States during a South Carolina rally in December? Or the Trump who told Fox News in May that that was just a “suggestion”?
The Trump who told The New York Times and a CNN town hall in March, and Fox News in April, that he was open to the idea of Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons? Or the Trump who said at a rally in Sacramento, California, last week that he never said that?
The Trump who said climate change is a “hoax” at a rally in South Carolina in December? Or the Trump who submitted an application in May to build a sea wall to protect his golf course in County Clare, Ireland, from the effects of global warming, explicitly citing rising sea levels and extreme weather?
The Trump who began his campaign by saying only limited U.S. troops would be needed to defeat the Islamic State? The Trump who said in a March debate that beating ISIS would require 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. ground forces? Or the Trump who said later in March that only troops from Middle East allies would be involved?
The Trump whose tax plan released in September contained cuts for middle-class Americans? Or the Trump who said in a May interview with CNBC that middle-class taxes probably would have to rise?
The Trump who told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in September that the United States should accept refugees from Syria? Or the Trump who one day later told Fox that that could not happen?
The Trump who said in a February debate that he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse” in calling for torture as a method of interrogation? The Trump who said he would not order the military to violate international laws on torture such as waterboarding in a statement to The Wall Street Journal in March? Or the Trump who told CNN later in March that waterboarding should be legal?
The Trump who opposed H-1B visas for specialty workers on his website in July? The Trump who favored the visas during a debate in October? Or the Trump who said during a debate in March that he would end the program, one he uses in his businesses?
Voters usually hope their candidate really means what he or she says. But usually, the candidate has consistent positions. The wall is pretty much Trump’s only consistent issue. And we’re not even talking here about any of the many issues on which Trump has taken a different position over a number of years. People are allowed to evolve in their thinking — a process Hillary Clinton knows well. Each of Trump’s changes listed here has occurred since he began running last June.
But it hasn’t hurt Trump. His supporters don’t seem to care. Nor do his detractors. For one group, he’s the one who’s channeling their frustration in broad emotional strokes. To the other, he’s a bombastic bully and racist, misogynist demagogue.
In this election of angst and anger, do the issues even matter?
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.