This appeared online this afternoon just a few minutes after Hillary launched into her big speech, carried live on cable news, attacking Trump on foreign policy. Is it a “news dump,” designed to hide Ryan’s statement of support for Trump amid the coverage of her event, or is it an attempt to starve her event of coverage by giving the media a “Ryan backs Trump!” headline instead?
— Paul Ryan (@PRyan) June 2, 2016
Here’s his op-ed, published in his hometown paper:
Donald Trump and I have talked at great length about things such as the proper role of the executive and fundamental principles such as the protection of life. The list of potential Supreme Court nominees he released after our first meeting was very encouraging.
But the House policy agenda has been the main focus of our dialogue. We’ve talked about the common ground this agenda can represent. We’ve discussed how the House can be a driver of policy ideas. We’ve talked about how important these reforms are to saving our country. And 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. That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall…
For me, it’s a question of how to move ahead on the ideas that I—and my House colleagues—have invested so much in through the years. It’s not just a choice of two people, but of two visions for America. And House Republicans are helping shape that Republican vision by offering a bold policy agenda, by offering a better way ahead.
Initially Ryan’s office hedged on whether that’s a formal endorsement, telling the Gazette, “He said he’ll vote for Trump in the piece. That speaks for itself, in our view.” But with all the buzz on Twitter over the announcement, his chief spokesman finally bit the bullet:
We're not playing word games, feel free to call it an endorsement.
— Brendan Buck (@BrendanBuck) June 2, 2016
Everything about this was predictable except the timing. He was always going to endorse Trump. There’s no way a sitting Republican Speaker, tasked with presiding over the convention, would hold out on the Republican nominee through November, especially with the rest of the party rapidly congealing around him. Backing Trump was inevitable. Also inevitable was the reaction from pro-Clinton lefties and #NeverTrump righties, both of whom are killing Ryan on social media as I write this. It’s inevitable as well that backing their guy won’t earn Ryan much extra respect from Trumpers, who are greeting this mostly as a pretext for Nelson Muntz-ish HA-ha’s at #NeverTrumpers’ expense. Ryan supports amnesty, free trade, and is a leading member of the GOP establishment ex officio. The most he can hope for in return here is some grudging “well, I guess you won’t need to be replaced right away” grumbling from Trump fans. As it turns out, his supposedly deeply principled reservations about Trump, a candidate who opposes Ryan’s vision for the country about as thoroughly as any fellow right-winger could, lasted precisely four weeks. It involved one face-to-face meeting (that we know of) and probably no more than a handful of phone chats. That’s how much persuading it took to convince Ryan that Trump was fit for office and sufficiently conservative to advance the House’s agenda.
And so, the question: What was the point of all this? Why didn’t he go the McConnell route and back Trump early, without fanfare, as a matter of partisan course? His op-ed isn’t an effusive endorsement — it amounts to Ryan saying that Trump, unlike Hillary, at least might sign some Republican bills — but because of Ryan’s initial resistance there’s a sense that Trump has passed some meaningful ideological litmus test now, which, I would think, is pretty much the opposite of what a dogmatic conservatarian like Ryan would want people to believe. How’d Trump pass that test? What has he said over the past month that’s meaningfully different from what he said over the first 10 months of the campaign that gave Ryan qualms about his nomination? The whole point of Ryan holding out, I thought, was to create some political daylight between House incumbents and Trump in case Trump faltered in the polls or went full loose cannon. He hasn’t faltered — on the contrary — but we’re still five months out from the election. He might falter eventually — yet here’s Ryan bear-hugging him in early June. How does the House inch away from Trump now if things go sideways later? All things considered, Ryan lost respect today from people who respected him for initially refusing to back Trump and gained little from people who didn’t. What on earth was his strategy with all of this nonsense?
Said one Twitter pal, “Donald Trump got Paul Ryan’s endorsement without needing to change his policy positions or his tone. It’s Trump’s party alright.” Indeed. If I’m not mistaken, this leaves Ted Cruz as the only big-name Republican pol who’s still on the fence about whether to back Trump. (Ben Sasse, who isn’t quite big-name yet, seems to be a committed anti-Trumper and therefore isn’t on the fence.) How long before Cruz caves?
Update: One theory circulating is that Ryan caved earlier than he wanted to because he’s worried about losing his primary. That’s unlikely.
Update: One other thought: If there’s even a shred of doubt left that Mitt Romney really is sitting this election out, it’s gone now. I’m sure Ryan would have checked with him about any looming dramatic entry into the race before he went public in support of Trump.