Ryan moves to cool Trump tensions

Ryan moves to cool Trump tensions
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE dialed back their rhetoric Monday after a weekend of sniping between the nation’s highest-ranking elected Republican and the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

But the bad blood — and stark policy differences — between the two GOP heavyweights left some observers questioning whether Ryan (Wis.) ever will find it in himself to back Trump before the November election.

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Ryan’s and Trump’s efforts to strike a more conciliatory tone come ahead of their high-stakes huddle Thursday at Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters, in the shadow of the Capitol.

While they’ve briefly met once before, Thursday’s gathering represents the first formal sit-down between two men who don’t really know or trust each other.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Monday, Ryan lamented the fact that he doesn’t know Trump very well and suggested an endorsement might still be in the cards.

“I never said never,” the Speaker said.

He also poured cold water on the possibility of a conservative candidate launching a third-party bid, warning it would be “disastrous for our party.”

And he offered to resign as chairman of the Republican National Convention if that were Trump’s desire.

“He’s the nominee. I’ll do whatever he wants,” Ryan said in an interview with the Wisconsin newspaper.

Trump offered comments on Monday that could also be seen as an effort at detente. The billionaire distanced himself from remarks made by surrogate Sarah Palin, who is backing Ryan’s primary opponent. 

The former vice presidential nominee predicted the end of Ryan’s political career after the Speaker declared last week he was “not ready” to get on board the Trump train. Trump said Palin was a “free agent” in distancing himself from her remarks.

While Ryan’s public deference to Trump marked a de-escalation of sorts, it also was seen by some as a savvy move in the Republicans’ political chess match.

The ball is now in Trump’s court. If the presumptive nominee tries to unilaterally oust Ryan from the chairman’s slot, it could be seen as petty and alienate Republicans who are on the fence about Trump’s candidacy.

For now, none of his House GOP colleagues are calling for Ryan to step down from what’s largely a ceremonial role at the July convention.

But some are publicly and privately urging him to back Trump in order to unite a party at war with itself.

“I believe [Ryan] will remain chairman and will support Trump,” said one Trump backer, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

“It’d be premature for Ryan to step down; they should try to work it out,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who challenged Ryan for the Speaker’s gavel last year. “We need everybody if we’re going to win in November.”

Conservative Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonArizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate Arizona governor faces pressure over McCain replacement MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill that Ryan’s initial refusal to get behind Trump is being blown “out of proportion.”

“I think Ryan will support the Republican nominee,” said Salmon, who first backed Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLessons from the front line — Florida's fight with sea level rise SNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Senior State Department official headed to Peru to bring home stranded Americans, Rubio says MORE, then Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE, and now supports Trump.

The temporary truce between Trump and Ryan comes just days after the Speaker shocked the political world by declaring that he was “not ready” to endorse or support Trump.

Trump fired back that he wasn’t on board the election-year policy agenda that Ryan has been spearheading in the House. Then, during appearances on the Sunday talk shows, Trump refused to say whether Ryan should quit as chairman of the GOP nominating convention in Cleveland due to his concerns about the expected nominee.

In taking on Trump, “Ryan was giving cover for members like Bob Dold whose opponents are going to try to tie him to Trump,” said one GOP lawmaker close to leadership. Dold, a GOP congressman from Illinois, faces a tough reelection contest this fall.

“People nervous about Trump loved it. Trump supporters now hate Ryan,” the lawmaker said. “I imagine the meeting this week will let both save face.”

Ryan will sit down with Trump twice on Thursday. First, Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and the rest of the House GOP leadership team will meet with the real estate mogul at the RNC. Then, Ryan will join RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Trump in a second meeting.

For some outside observers, however, expectations are low — don’t anticipate a major breakthrough, they warned.

“Everybody is going to walk out and say, ‘It was a good, productive conversation and we look forward to more of them,’” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director who is opposed to Trump.  

There will be a lot of pleasantries but “not a lot of deliverables that come out of there,” Heye added.

Others expressed greater optimism. Longtime Ryan mentor Bill Bennett, who frequently talks to the Speaker, said Ryan will be seeking agreement on traditional underlying principles of the Republican Party — not agreement on specific policy ideas.

“What’s to be accomplished is, we hope, a meeting of the minds — that they come together on an agreement of some things,” Bennett said in his new podcast, according to The Washington Examiner. “It’s not at the level of specific policy. It’s not about immigration, it’s not about trade, it’s not about this tax proposal or that tax proposal.

“Paul Ryan believes ... there are certain principles that define the Republican Party.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.