Is Paul Ryan trying to get kicked out of his gig as co-chair of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July?
Maybe he is. That could explain why on Monday the House speaker said he’d step down from his highly visible convention leadership spot if presumptive nominee Donald Trump asks.
“He’s the nominee. I’ll do whatever he wants with respect to the convention,” Speaker Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Ryan’s not a Trump backer, after all – at least, not yet. In an extraordinary disavowal of an all-but-certain party nominee, Ryan last week said he’s “not ready” to support Mr. Trump in the general election.
After all, the two men are far apart on important items of policy. Ryan wants to curb big government entitlement programs such as Social Security; Trump says benefits need to be protected. Ryan is a free trade advocate; Trump says free trade agreements are ripping America off. Ryan is hawkish on foreign policy; Trump is noninterventionist.
That’s put Ryan in an awkward position for the convention. As the co-chair he’ll be highly visible during proceedings. Every time he appears somewhere a commentator will take that as a reminder to talk about the split in the top of the GOP, with many past presidents and nominees skipping the Cleveland action rather than appear near Trump.
Quitting might be awkward too, making it appear Ryan is afraid to face up to Trump after his disavowal.
But if Trump wants his own person to handle the gavel, well, what’s wrong with that? Ryan could just step aside rather than implicitly compete with Trump on-stage for the title of “Mr. Republican.” Perhaps the speaker is indicating he’d like to be replaced.
“The Wisconsin Dells are lovely in July. Who would want to miss that?” tweeted Washington Post national political correspondent Karen Tumulty on Monday.
Of course, it’s also possible that Ryan’s offer to do what Trump wants is what it seems to be on the surface – an olive branch.
If that’s the case, Trump might be wise to meet Ryan halfway. He needs the speaker on his side, probably more than Ryan needs him.
If Trump is to have any chance of beating likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he will need all the Republican votes he can get. Parties generally rally around their nominee during a general election campaign; if that doesn’t happen, they lose. Trump says he doesn’t need party unity, since he’ll expand the GOP base. There’s little evidence that is actually happening.
Plus, if Trump doesn’t smooth things over with Ryan and wins the Oval Office anyway, he’d face a semi-hostile speaker of the House. That’s not a great way to get your legislative agenda enacted. And despite Trump’s rhetoric, he’d need lots of congressional help to fulfill his campaign promises. Tax bills don’t enact themselves.
So far Trump has refrained from a personalized response to Ryan’s nonsupport. The two men are meeting in Washington on Thursday to air their differences. We’ll likely know then whether Ryan may indeed get some extra family time in the month of July.