Paul Ryan’s soap opera with Donald Trump

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— On Tues­day night, pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Donald Trump dis­par­aged New Mex­ico Gov. Su­sana Martinez, prob­a­bly the most prom­i­nent His­panic Repub­li­can of­fice­holder in Amer­ica, say­ing at a rally in Al­bu­querque that she has a bad record and “she’s got to do a bet­ter job.”

At the same rally, where win­dows were smashed and Trump and his sup­port­ers clashed with demon­stra­tors, the can­di­date also mocked Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s claim to Na­tive Amer­i­can roots by re­peat­edly call­ing her “Poc­a­hon­tas.”

And House Speaker Paul Ryan, sit­ting down with re­porters on Wed­nes­day,

WASH­ING­TON

wanted to talk about pol­icy? It wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen.

The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Mike De­Bo­nis, not­ing Trump’s at­tack on Martinez, asked Ryan, “Do you have a part­ner who’s in­ter­ested in party unity?”

“She’s a friend of mine, and I think she’s a good gov­er­nor. I will leave it at that,” the speaker replied.

Would the speaker’s pol­icy agenda in­clude plans for de­port­ing mil­lions of peo­ple, as Trump has sug­gested?

“That’s not in our agenda,” Ryan said.

Should Trump apol­o­gize for be­lit­tling pris­on­ers of war, the phys­i­cally dis­abled and women’s ap­pear­ances?

“I’m fo­cus­ing on what we can con­trol here in the House,” Ryan said.

And what he can con­trol is, well, not much. Ryan had wanted a sit-down with re­porters for a “pen and pad” ses­sion to talk pol­icy. But, un­be­knownst to the speaker, his staff re­leased a flock of pho­tog­ra­phers into the room just as ques­tions were start­ing.

“Jeez. Good grief. God­damned,” Ryan said with a laugh when the bar­rage of shut­ter clicks be­gan.

He can prob­a­bly blame Trump for that, too. Late Tues­day, Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials leaked word that Ryan, who had said he wasn’t ready to en­dorse Trump, would in­deed be en­dors­ing Trump as soon as Wed­nes­day. This, like much of what comes out of Trump’s cam­paign, was false. But it turned Ryan’s pol­icy ses­sion into an­other in­stall­ment of his soap opera with Trump.

“I don’t know where all this got from,” he pleaded when CNN’s Manu Raju asked whether he had made a de­ci­sion to back Trump. “I have not made a de­ci­sion and ... I have noth­ing more to add.”

What the speaker did have to con­trib­ute was an al­ba­tross of a metaphor.

“We’re a big-tent party with lots of dif­fer­ent wings of the Repub­li­can Party, and we [he and Trump] clearly come from dif­fer­ent wings of the Repub­li­can Party — there’s no two ways about that,” he said. “The ques­tion is, if we’re go­ing to unify, can we fig­ure out what is the com­mon foun­da­tion that ties all th­ese wings to­gether?”

Ac­tu­ally, if you tie a lot of wings to­gether and at­tach them to a foun­da­tion, it’s pretty ob­vi­ous what will hap­pen: That bird won’t fly.

“Repub­li­cans in the House have said, look, Paul Ryan even­tu­ally has to en­dorse Donald Trump,” Fox News’ Chad Per­gram in­formed the speaker Wed­nes­day. “Why not just rip the Band-Aid off?”

Replied Ryan: “I’m re­ally fo­cused on my day job.”

But he surely has to be fo­cused on a mo­men­tous cal­cu­la­tion: He could with­hold sup­port, po­ten­tially cost­ing Trump the pres­i­dency and per­haps los­ing his House ma­jor­ity. Or he could sup­port Trump and have Trump de­fine con­ser­va­tives, and Repub­li­cans, for years — even if it’s with iso­la­tion, trade wars and racial strife.

“My worry,” one top Repub­li­can of­fi­cial re­marked dur­ing the pri­mary cam­paign, “is not that Trump will lose the gen­eral elec­tion. It’s that he could win.” Ce­ment­ing the alien­ation of women, im­mi­grants and non-whites would shorten the fuse on the de­mo­graphic time bomb un­der­neath the GOP.

Ryan seems to be hop­ing that Trump, in ex­change for the speaker’s en­dorse­ment, will of­fer him a to­ken con­ces­sion: some sort of bless­ing of his agenda of eco­nomic growth, na­tional se­cu­rity, health care, an­tipoverty mea­sures and lim­its on pres­i­den­tial power. “We need to nor­mal­ize th­ese ideas,” the speaker said.

But there is no way to fi­nesse this, no fig leaf big enough to cover the gap be- tween them.

How does he square Trump’s ex­pan­sive view of ex­ec­u­tive power with his own plan to limit such power?

“That is one of my big con­cerns, not just with Donald Trump but with who­ever the next pres­i­dent may be.”

Is he con­cerned that Trump doesn’t share his views on en­ti­tle­ments?

“We’re go­ing to fo­cus on our own pro­pos­als.”

Is Ryan dis­ap­pointed there aren’t more dis­cus­sions with Trump?

“I can con­trol what I can con­trol.”

But Ryan can’t con­trol Trump, nor win real con­ces­sions from him.

As the high­est-rank­ing Repub­li­can in Amer­ica, he has a stark and bi­nary choice to make: tie his and his party’s fu­ture to Trump, or walk away.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post. com.

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