I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, the convention is a pageant for the nominee. Why would Trump or the party writ large want someone presiding over it who can’t in good conscience endorse him (yet)? The optics would be bad enough if the chairman was some random Republican functionary but it’s Paul farking Ryan, former VP nominee and Speaker of the House. Having him there in Cleveland on camera sans endorsement is an excuse for a million “GOP still divided even at highest levels” stories during convention week.
On the other hand, why should Ryan step down? A majority of the party didn’t vote for Trump in the primaries. Ryan’s objections to him aren’t ticky-tack policy quibbles; they’re big-picture questions about the direction of the GOP, from its orientation towards white identity politics to whether its economic platform will be more libertarian or protectionist. The party is and will remain bigger than Trump no matter what happens this year and Ryan is as entitled to his position as chair as Trump is entitled to his as nominee. If Ryan’s unwelcome in Cleveland because he won’t kneel before Zod, maybe Republican voters who like Ryan and remain skeptical of Trump are unwelcome too and should find something better to do on election day.
“He’s the nominee. I’ll do whatever he wants with respect to the convention,” Ryan said when asked about that scenario in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel…
“I never said never. I just said (not) at this point. I wish I had more time to get to know him before this happened. We just didn’t,” he said…
Ryan declined to elaborate in greater detail about his concerns about Trump, saying, “I don’t want to have a conversation with Donald Trump through the media. I want to have a straight conversation with Donald Trump on behalf of the party (and) myself, too. Let me say this, the man deserves a ton of credit for an amazing achievement, which is to bring millions of people into this party and to have a very impressive victory … At the same time we want to make sure we don’t pretend we’re unified and then go into the fall at half strength.”
“I want to help unify our party so that we’re at full strength so that we can defeat Hillary Clinton,” Ryan said “I believe between now and July we will be able to figure out how to unify our party.”
The best evidence yet that Ryan’s going to endorse Trump eventually is that he hasn’t already seized the opportunity to step down as convention chair. That in itself would be a powerful statement of opposition to Trump; all the “party still divided” convention-week stories I just mentioned would also be written if Ryan disqualified himself from attending. It would suggest his skepticism of Trump is likely to last at least through July and runs deep enough that he can’t be a good soldier for his party and its nominee by participating in the big show even without having formally backed Trump. He could even present it as a gesture of magnanimity. E.g., “Donald Trump is our duly elected nominee and deserves every chance to win over voters this fall. Our party’s convention is his best opportunity to do that. On such an important occasion, he’s entitled to have enthusiastic supporters staffing every important position. For that reason, due to my comments last week to CNN, I resign as convention chair.” That’s what Ryan would say if he really intended not to support Trump. The fact that he hasn’t said it speaks volumes.
Which raises the question: When will Ryan endorse? It’s a cinch that he’ll do it before Cleveland, in order to keep his chairman role, but if he does it immediately after meeting with Trump this Thursday, he’ll look like a joke who caved as soon as Trump spent a half hour telling him what he wanted to hear. I think he’s stuck holding out at least through the rest of this month. He could plausibly endorse on June 7th, as the last primaries are held, as a sort of benediction for Trump as he secures a majority of delegates. Or he could do it a few weeks before the convention and say that he and Trump have had “long conversations” about policy and now feels reassured that there’s enough common ground to justify an endorsement. He’ll be lying when he does — they’re as far apart as two “Republicans” can be, especially on economics — but these are the lies the party will need to tell itself in the name of “unity.” Two clips for you below, one of Trump hinting that he might ask Ryan to step down as chair at some point (around 4:15) and the other of Matthew Dowd wondering whether Paul Ryan has any constituency anymore within the GOP. Quote: “What party is Paul Ryan the future of?”