Ryan’s Low-Key Trump Endorsement Leaves Loose Ends for GOP

Ryan Endorses Trump: Is the ‘Never Trump’ Movement Done?
  • House speaker backs Republican after weeks-long impasse
  • Ryan says the two have ‘more common ground’ than disagreement

House Speaker Paul Ryan ended his high-profile standoff with Donald Trump by quietly endorsing him for president amid mounting pressure that left the speaker increasingly isolated within the Republican Party.

But it doesn’t end questions about the awkward accommodations that the Republican Party has made for its volatile nominee. After spending several weeks vetting Trump and then deciding to endorse, the speaker will now be tied more directly to his stances and utterances, which have not moderated as he’s turned toward the general election.

In sharp contrast to how Ryan’s holdout began, there was no live television interview. There was no handshake with the party’s nominee nor was there a press conference. There was simply an article in his hometown newspaper in Janesville, Wisconsin.

“It’s no secret that he and I have our differences,” Ryan wrote Thursday. “But the reality is, on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement.”

QuickTake Speaker of the House

The decision puts an end to the House speaker’s unprecedented deliberation over his party’s presidential nominee and removes the biggest remaining obstacle to Trump’s efforts to unite the party around his campaign. It also clears the way for Ryan to serve as chairman of the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland in July. 

Break With Romney

Still, the move marks a significant break for Ryan, who ran on a presidential ticket in 2012 with Mitt Romney, perhaps Trump’s loudest critic inside the party.  

During the period when Ryan was deliberating on an endorsement, Trump did little to moderate his unpredictable campaign, continuing to blast Romney; launching a broadside against the popular Republican governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez; and attacking a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University.

Ryan acknowledged this problem indirectly on Thursday. "It is my hope the campaign improves its tone as we go forward and it’s all a campaign we can be proud of," he told the Associated Press in an interview.

Trump made no apparent public concessions to Ryan, nor did he offer any new, more conservative policy pronouncements. The last time the pair spoke directly was last week, by telephone, when Trump was in California.

Ryan didn’t give Trump or anyone at the Trump campaign a heads-up before the news was published in the Janesville paper, according to a person familiar with how the endorsement was made. The column was released at the same time as Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was delivering a high-profile foreign policy speech.

‘Fait Accompli’

House Republicans largely had said they would give Ryan time to come to a decision, but most expected that an endorsement was inevitable.

"It was a bit of a fait accompli," said fellow Wisconsin lawmaker, Republican Representative Reid Ribble, in an interview after the announcement. Ribble, who isn’t running for re-election, has said he would never support Trump. 

But Ribble said he respects Ryan’s decision, and that the speaker had told him some time ago that he first had "to make sure that our party’s standard bearer actually will bear our standards."

Ryan had said his goal was to see the party unified. All of his top House leadership lieutenants had rallied behind Trump, along with most of his top committee chairmen. 

Trump’s supporters in Congress were starting to lose their patience. Earlier Thursday, before the endorsement, Representative Duncan Hunter of California, one of the billionaire’s earliest House backers, put it bluntly: "The American people don’t care about who Paul Ryan endorses, and don’t give a damn."

Ribble said he believes Ryan has secured "some kind of common ground" that a President Trump would sign certain pieces of legislation when he gets to the White House, that reflect parts of a House Republican agenda the speaker hopes to advance.

Policy Gaps

But Ryan and Trump remain deeply divided over major policy issues, particularly free trade and immigration.

During his campaign, Trump harnessed anti-establishment anger in the Republican electorate by decrying free-trade deals and rampant immigration, while also signaling he may be open to running bigger deficits and spending money on infrastructure. Ryan, meanwhile, has long backed free trade and an immigration overhaul, while pushing the House Republicans’ demands for a limited government with steep spending cuts.

Either way, Ryan has taken a risk, as his endorsement of Trump was non-equivocal. His own political fate may not be tied to Trump’s unpredictability, but it could impact the wonky brand that Ryan has been carefully constructing.

Rice University political scientist Paul Brace said he believes "Ryan has his eye on the long game."

"If Trump is elected, Ryan’s game is even longer. I think many potential presidential aspirants want Trump to fail without totally destroying the Republican brand," said Brace.

‘Abject Surrender’

Democrats didn’t take long to suggest Ryan has simply caved in to pressure.

"It’s clear that Trump’s hateful rhetoric echoes the longstanding policy positions of House Republicans, and the two will be inseparably tied to one another throughout the campaign and on Election Day," said second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

"Speaker Ryan’s abject surrender makes it official: the GOP is Trump’s party now," said Adam Jentleson, the deputy chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The standoff began on May 5, when Ryan surprised his own caucus on by declining to back Trump after his last opponents dropped out of the race. The speaker said he wanted to make sure that the real-estate billionaire was a true conservative. At the time, it appeared that many other House Republicans may have shared Ryan’s reservations.

Trump and Ryan have met and spoken by phone in recent weeks as they sought to end the impasse, and aides for the two men also met to discuss policy differences.

In the op-ed article, Ryan said, “we’ve talked about how, by focusing on issues that unite Republicans, we can work together to heal the fissures developed through the primary.”

“Through these conversations, I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives,” Ryan wrote. “That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall.”

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