Ryan on meeting with Trump: GOP won’t unite in a week

Ryan on meeting with Trump: GOP won’t unite in a week
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE on Tuesday sought to downplay expectations for his meeting this week with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE, forecasting no major breakthroughs that might unify the party’s two biggest stars.

The pair has feuded since last week, when the Wisconsin Republican shocked Washington by refusing to endorse Trump’s bid — a remarkable snub that raised real questions about how, or if, the fractured party could reconcile its differences before the general election.

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Ryan, in a shift from the more combative approach of last week, suggested Tuesday that unification is possible, but it will require more than a single meeting.

“I don’t go into Thursday with huge expectations other than just to have the kind of conversations that we need to start having so that we are getting ourselves on the same page as a party,” the Speaker said during an interview with a hometown radio station, WBEL, in Janesville, Wis.

In a separate interview with The Wall Street Journal streamed on Facebook, Ryan again alluded to the herculean task of bringing the GOP together: “It was a very, very bitter, divisive primary. It’s going to take more than a week just to repair and unify this party.”

His press secretary, AshLee Strong, fired off a tongue-in-cheek memo to the Fourth Estate, mocking reporters for wasting so much ink on the Trump-Ryan meeting.

“You should know that Thursday’s Ryan/Trump meeting is not the most important thing happening in DC this week,” she wrote, adding that the House is taking up important bills to address the opioid epidemic.

Even as the Speaker’s office tamped down expectations, details about Thursday’s closed-door gatherings began trickling out. Trump will huddle with Ryan and the Speaker’s close friend and fellow Wisconsinite, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus, at 9 a.m. at RNC headquarters.

Trump then will meet with Ryan and top members of the Speaker’s leadership team: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersWashington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines McMorris Rodgers worried broadband funding will miss mark without new maps The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Budget negotiators: 72 hours and counting MORE (Wash.) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (N.C.).

Finally, at 11:45 a.m., Trump will sit down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Schumer eyeing Build Back Better vote as soon as week of Dec. 13 MORE (R-Ky.) and his leadership team: Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Mental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (Texas), Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default No deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline MORE (S.D.), Policy Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSunday shows - Spotlight shifts to omicron variant Barrasso calls Biden's agenda 'Alice in Wonderland' logic: 'He's the Mad Hatter' Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist MORE (Wyo.) and Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE (Mo.).

To help smooth things over between the expected nominee and Speaker, Trump emissary Ben Carson held a phone call with Ryan on Tuesday night, said sources familiar with the call.

Ryan knows the soft-spoken Carson slightly better than he knows Trump; Carson was one of the 2016 GOP White House candidates who spoke at Ryan’s anti-poverty summit in South Carolina earlier this year. Ryan briefly met Trump in 2012, when he was GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, but Ryan and Trump did connect by phone earlier this year to discuss the Speaker’s election-year policy agenda.

No other information about the Carson-Ryan call was provided, but it could help set the parameters and expectations of the Thursday talks.

The conflict between Ryan and Trump is twofold. First, Trump has adopted a long list of policy positions that run directly counter to the conservative agenda being pushed by Ryan and the Republicans on Capitol Hill. They are not fringe issues — they represent some of the most significant policy areas tackled by Washington, including tax reform, Medicare, international trade and immigration policy.

“Conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?” Ryan said on Thursday in rebuking Trump on CNN. “There are a lot of questions that conservatives ... are going to want answers to, myself included.”

Then there’s the question of outreach and messaging.

After Romney’s resounding loss to President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHead of North Carolina's health department steps down Appeals court appears wary of Trump's suit to block documents from Jan. 6 committee Patent trolls kill startups, but the Biden administration has the power to help  MORE in 2012, Priebus commissioned a GOP “autopsy,” a 100-page evaluation of the party’s shortcomings aimed at making the party more appealing to minorities and other broad swaths of voters.

But Trump’s tone on the campaign trail has been antagonistic from the start, stirring a seemingly endless string of controversies and insulting entire groups of people, including women, Hispanics and Muslims. Among the disputes, the billionaire has accused Mexican immigrants of being criminals; suggested a female reporter was menstruating during a Republican debate; called to ban all Muslims from entering the country; and refused to denounce the support of a well-known white supremacist.

Those episodes have been central to Trump’s rise and have threatened to undermine — if not shatter — the years-long effort by Republican leaders to bring more groups of voters into the party’s tent, including women, Hispanics and African-Americans.

Ryan suggested Trump’s harsh tone was a large part of the reason he’s withheld his endorsement, highlighting the concern of national GOP leaders that their presidential nominee will alienate voters to the detriment of other Republican candidates down the ballot.

“It’s time to set aside bullying, to set aside belittlement and appeal to higher aspirations,” Ryan told CNN.

The message was all but ignored by Trump, who took to the Sunday news shows to remind Ryan and other critics that his message, combative or not, has yielded results in the form of a primary rout over 16 more politically experienced contenders.

“I’m going to get millions and millions of votes more than the Republicans would have gotten,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Trump previewed his message to Ryan ahead of Thursday’s meeting: “I’m going to say, ‘Look, this is what the people want.’ ”

The real estate tycoon softened his tone on Tuesday, expressing hope that the Republicans will unite quickly for the sake of a November victory.

“I look very much forward to meeting w/Paul Ryan & the GOP Party Leadership on Thurs in DC,” Trump tweeted. “Together, we will beat the Dems at all levels!”

Ryan’s refusal to support Trump outright has given cover to vulnerable House Republicans such as Reps. Bob Dold (Ill.) and Barbara Comstock (Va.), but has also put some of Ryan’s fellow GOP leaders in an awkward spot.

Both of Ryan’s top lieutenants, McCarthy and Scalise, have signed on with Trump; McCarthy is a Trump delegate in California. But like Ryan, McMorris Rodgers and Policy Chairman Luke Messer (R-Ind.) say they aren’t quite ready to endorse Trump.

Ryan’s Senate counterpart, McConnell, broke with the Speaker and backed Trump. On Tuesday, McConnell had no comment when asked about Ryan’s hesitation.

“We know that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE will be four more years of Barack Obama,” McConnell told reporters. “I think that’s going to be, in the end, enough to unify Republicans across the country.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.