Ryan has avoided direct conflict with Trump, apart from condemning the billionaire’s proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the U.S. But with Jeb Bush faltering in the presidential race, and Marco Rubio moving toward a darker message, Ryan emerged from Saturday’s forum as the national Republican leader offering the sunniest contrast to Trump’s belligerent vision of the party’s future.
While Trump presents a bristling and insular nationalism targeted squarely at the anxieties of whites who feel most economically marginalized and culturally eclipsed, Ryan on Saturday argued for an inclusive conservatism that widens the GOP coalition with responses to the challenges facing all communities.
“This is a struggle for the soul of … the party,” says Arthur Brooks, the polymath president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a Ryan ally. (That conflict became even more vivid after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was invited partly by Ryan, used her response to President Obama’s State of the Union this week to pointedly rebuke Trump.)…
Trump’s success underscores the extent to which the top priority for many Republican voters is now fundamentally negative: stopping a Democratic agenda that they believe is combining with demographic change to irreversibly change the country. (“Democrats are just buying votes and we are headed toward socialism,” one man backing Trump told me.) As GOP consultant Alex Castellanos notes, Trump has soared partly because he is “antagonizing every adversary of the Republican base. And in doing that, he’s cemented himself as the leader of our quest.”