Fair to call it that or no? As Speaker he’s obliged by custom to meet with the president-elect, no matter who that is. But, realistically, Ryan needs Trump’s support to hold onto his job. There are two layers of distrust between them, the conservative/nationalist ideological divide and the hard feelings that may linger from Ryan declaring that he wouldn’t campaign with Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out in October. Trump holds the cards now by dint of Tuesday’s victory: If he were to signal that he can’t work with Ryan, House Republicans would feel pressure from the base to force him out as Speaker and give Trump a partner more to his liking. He could have signaled his disapproval of Ryan today by snubbing him, limiting his meetings in Washington to the one with Obama at the White House. The fact that he showed up to this one will be interpreted by House Republicans, I assume, as a vote of confidence in keeping Ryan on. That’s a smart move by Trump, especially at a moment when he’s staffing up. Don’t make enemies of establishment GOPers before you absolutely have to, as you’re going to need some of them — a lot of them, even — to keep the government running.
Besides, why would Trump need a more compliant Speaker when there’s every reason to think Ryan will be compliant? Josh Barro notes that Trump holds the cards on legislation too:
As with Trump’s relationship with the media, Trump’s favoritism on Capitol Hill will be situational. What Trump’s overtures [to Chuck Schumer] say to me is Trump wants the option to work closely with Democrats on some priorities, like infrastructure and perhaps child care subsidies…
By being able to work both sides of the aisle and build situation-specific coalitions, Trump will be able to have a much more powerful presidency than if he pursues a narrow Republican-only strategy. And I doubt he’ll get in much trouble with Republican voters for it.
One thing we learned during this presidential campaign is Trump draws much more loyalty from Republican base voters than congressional leaders do. If Trump partners with Democrats on a piece of legislation and demands to know why Ryan and McConnell won’t bring it to the floor, it will be Ryan and McConnell who come under base pressure, not Trump.
Right-wing populism’s agenda has already mostly morphed into “whatever Trump wants.” It’s not carte blanche; there’d be static if he gave up on the wall. But he’ll get the benefit of the doubt on nearly anything else. Now, thanks to his national victory, “whatever Trump wants” will also increasingly become the Republican agenda. If Trump wants a trillion dollars for new infrastructure and conservatarian Paul Ryan refuses to cut a check that big, guess who all the supposed fiscal conservatives who identified as tea partiers two years ago will side with. Not to keep harping on this point but the GOP leadership has been in a de facto hostage situation with Trump for months and it’ll only get worse now, unless and until Trump’s own base erodes — which is unlikely, given his cult of personality. No matter what Trump demands legislatively, however statist and expensive, the threat that he’ll wreck the GOP in Congress by telling his voters not to turn out in 2018 or to vote downballot in 2020 will lurk wordlessly, forcing them not to resist his demands. In fact, if Trump is canny, he’ll make a point of working with Schumer and Pelosi on something early in his term, just to remind Ryan and McConnell that he’s capable of governing like a Democrat if they obstruct too much of his agenda. We’ll see.
By the way, is this the first time Trump and Ryan have been on camera together? They’ve spoken by phone before and were set to campaign together in Wisconsin before the “Access Hollywood” tape dropped, but I don’t remember a joint appearance publicly.