A pre-emptive move toward unity? Just ahead of a series of meetings with Republican Party leadership in Washington, Donald Trump appeared on The O’Reilly Factor to not just offer an olive branch to Paul Ryan, but even to defend him. Trump told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that he wants Ryan to stay on as chair of the Republican convention in July, and that he believes the meetings will be fruitful. When O’Reilly suggests that Ryan needs to “fall in line,” Trump rejects that premise and defends Ryan’s loyalty to party and country:
“He’s a very good man, he wants what’s good for the party,” Trump told O’Reilly, “and I’d love, frankly, to have him stay and be chairman.” That’s a much different tone than Trump has taken with his skeptics within the GOP over the past several weeks. What gives? As Reuters’ Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell note, Trump faces high stakes this week in these meetings, with the potential to boost his general-election chances by uniting the party behind him — and that means playing nice, at least for now:
Republican officials and lawmakers say Trump has the potential to appeal to a greater number of Republican voters but must make changes to make party leaders more comfortable with him.
“I think he has to show what kind of president that he would be,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine. “But I believe he can do that, so I am not one who has foreclosed the possibility of eventually supporting him. But I need to see more from him.”
Many Republicans have been appalled at Trump’s incendiary style, such as his suggestion last week that former rival Ted Cruz’s father was in contact with Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Some Republicans have also been rankled by some of Trump’s policy proposals, including his declaration that NATO is obsolete and his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
Both men have cooled the conflict over the past week, with Ryan offering compliments about Trump’s primary victory and his openness to discussing the direction of the party. Trump appears to be responding in kind with at least the strategic goal in mind of shutting down any internal rifts. It’s a smart move, but risks (at least a little) Trump’s anti-establishment credibility. Trump needs to be seen bending Ryan and the GOP establishment to his will rather than the other way around.
That may also be in the best interest of Republican leadership, too, in an odd way. If they want to beat Hillary Clinton in November, they can’t afford to strip Trump of the one quality he has that could attract voters outside the GOP. The question will be whether Trump will force them to bend the knee, or will be satisfied with just the impression that they’re taking their cues from him.