Donald Trump and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan had a good meeting in Washington on Thursday by all accounts. No endorsement of Trump took place. But the clear takeaway was that one is in the making.
The sitdown reportedly centered on key policy differences between the two men. In a news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters after the tête–à–tête, Ryan said he was encouraged that Trump and House Republicans might eventually come together on core principles to “unify the Party.” Among the subjects broached were the Supreme Court, the constitutional separation of powers and federal abortion laws, he said.
It’s no surprise that detente might be reached where “core principles” are concerned.
Trump has none, evidently, so he’s free to accept any proffered framework that might benefit him politically, be it a core set of convictions or a manufactured show of esprit de corps for television cameras.
That may sound harsh, but Trump’s dramatic shifts on the 2nd Amendment, immigration, abortion, taxes, campaign self-financing and federal wage mandates do suggest a certain, shall we say, inner flexibility.
Ryan suffers no such suppleness. He’s a principled conservative in an awful spot. Either Trump or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will presumably be the next president — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forcefully disagrees — and Ryan’s calculus has to center on which of the two would best advance the pro-growth economic agenda he wants for the country.
Normally that would be obvious. But with Trump’s protectionist trade statements and protean nature, nothing is certain. Ryan is clearly hoping that, at a minimum, he can quasi-lock Trump into a coherent set of policy positions and perhaps convince him to drop some of his more outrageous proposals — prisoner torture, assassination of non-combatants and creation of a national Muslim database among them.
There’s only one problem.
It’s not only Trump’s controversial political positions that are of concern to Republicans, but also his temperament. Indeed, that may be the larger concern.
The cruelty Trump demonstrates in his verbal assaults, especially on women, is anathema to those who count basic human decency both as a core value and as a prerequisite for the presidency.
Trump may not need those Republicans to win. But if he wants them, a genuine expression of contrition for the awful things he said during the primaries might go a long way.
I wouldn’t hold my breath.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.