WASHINGTON — To many Republicans, Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s proclamation on Thursday that he was not prepared to support Donald J. Trump seemed to be an opening bid. In truth, it was more like the final word.
Although party leaders furiously brokered a meeting between the two men at the Capitol next Thursday, it is likely that only substantial changes in Mr. Trump’s language and tenor, not just minor calibrations on policy positions, will be needed to bring Mr. Ryan to his camp.
Mr. Ryan has become increasingly depressed about the tone of the race within the Republican Party, several people who have talked to him in recent weeks said. He could not bring himself to give even nominal support to Mr. Trump, despite pressure from more conservative House Republicans, after the candidate disparaged various ethnic groups and accused Senator Ted Cruz’s father of conspiring with Lee Harvey Oswald, among other inflammatory comments. Those remarks determined Mr. Ryan’s course far more than the considerable differences on policy between the men.
Mr. Ryan’s stance may lead to the remarkable scenario of a convention chairman presiding over the nomination of a man he does not support, but it basically comes down to three things.
First, and most important: he can do it. Unlike former Speaker John A. Boehner, who had to fight to cling to his gavel almost from the moment he took it in 2011, Mr. Ryan was drafted into his job by the majority of his conference. And unlike Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who says he supports Mr. Trump, Mr. Ryan is largely impervious to criticism from the right. Agree or disagree with Mr. Ryan, at this point his members need him more than he needs them, at least to prevent unmitigated chaos in their ranks.
It is notable that House conservatives often derided Mr. Boehner for not “sticking to conservative principles” in negotiating with Democrats on legislation, but now are chafing that Mr. Ryan, whose conservative principles have in many ways been rejected by Mr. Trump, is not getting behind the presumptive nominee.
“Isn’t it a principle that the G.O.P. speaker would support the G.O.P. nominee?” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina and a frequent scold of House leadership, discussing the party’s conundrum in an email exchange. (Rock: Meet hard place, over at the Speaker’s Balcony.)
Second, Mr. Ryan sees the value in protecting Republican House members up for re-election in swing districts where Mr. Trump may well be a drag on the rest of the ticket.
“I thought it was helpful,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania. “I believe that Paul expressed feelings that many of us have. Trump’s attacks on Muslims, the Hispanics, that David Duke fiasco, the abortion exchange with Chris Matthews, all these issues are just really unsettling.” He added, “Donald Trump has to convince many Americans, including me, that he is ready and able to lead this great country, and at the moment I am not convinced.”
Representative Ann Wagner, Republican of Missouri, made similar remarks to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The third reason is that nothing Mr. Ryan has said compels him to change his current course as speaker, which is largely focused on developing an alternative Republican policy agenda and shoring up vulnerable members with money and help campaigning. He plans to develop that agenda with House members, even if election politics may well prevent any of it from becoming actual legislation.
This is perhaps the weakest reason for withholding support from Mr. Trump, since without a Republican in the White House, there will probably be no Ryan agenda. But for Mr. Ryan, Mr. Trump’s conduct appears to loom larger than the speaker’s policy dreams. So even if the candidate shows up at the Capitol next week and says “I fully support this agenda,” it would almost certainly not be enough, Ryan aides say.
Do not expect Mr. Ryan to join Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, who has taken to penning letters to America by the riverbanks and searching for an alternative to Mr. Trump. The speaker will probably just keep doing what he is doing: raising money for Republicans, talking — both amorphously and perhaps later more substantively — about policy ideas, and looking, with hope and some desperation, for that change in tone from the presumptive nominee.
Mr. Trump so far has not signaled that this is in the offing. On Twitter on Friday morning, he wrote: “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!”
Source: NY Times