Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has finally endorsed Donald Trump for president. After vocally criticizing Trump during the primary and withholding his support for several weeks, Ryan announced in an op-ed for the Janesville Gazette yesterday that he would be voting for Donald Trump. Ryan's staffers indicated that it was fair to call the statement an endorsement.
The strangest part of Ryan's endorsement is the overall framing, which posits that Trump would be a boon for Ryan's policy agenda. The op-ed is designed to look like a negotiated deal. In fact, it represents a total capitulation to Trumpism.
Although Ryan says that he continues to have disagreements with Trump, and will still say so when the need arises, the Speaker believes that "the reality is, on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement."
What issues would those be?
Entitlement reform? Paul Ryan has proposed overhauling both Social Security and Medicare in order to reduce the long-term budget gaps for both programs. Trump has rejected any overhaul, and has suggested instead that Social Security should be preserved via reductions in wasteful spending, a plan that is not really a plan, and does not remotely add up.
Debt and deficits? Paul Ryan rose to prominence largely on his budget roadmap, a document laying out a path to improving the nation's long-term fiscal situation. Trump, in contrast, appears to be unable to do basic budget math: He once insisted that the federal government could save $300 billion by cutting a $78 billion program.
What about health care? Ryan has been amongst the most outspoken Congressional Republicans about the need to reform the health care system in a way that relies less on centralized government management. In a debate last year, Trump praised government-run single payer health systems. His health care reform plan is lazy, self-defeating nonsense.
Maybe he's talking about immigration? Again, no. Although Ryan has said that he won't pursue immigration reform under President Obama, he has generally been amongst the Republicans who are more open and receptive to the idea of creating a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, and he has opposed mass deportation. Opposition to immigration, on the other hand, has arguably been Trump's signature issue, and he has proposed a mass "deportation force" to immediately remove 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country.
Beyond any specific policy agenda, meanwhile, Ryan has called for civility and gentility in political rhetoric, and has criticized Trump—though not by name—by declaring that the GOP "does not prey on people's prejudices." Just hours after Ryan issued his endorsement, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he believed there is an "absolute conflict" for the judge presiding over the Trump University class action lawsuit, because of the judge's "Mexican heritage" and Trump's declared intention to build a southern border wall in order to prevent unauthorized immigration. (The judge was born in Indiana.) Trump, more than any prominent GOP candidate or politician in recent memory, has explicitly and repeatedly sought political advantage by stoking prejudice.
It's true that as Speaker of the House, and Chairman of the Republican Party Convention at which Trump will officially be nominated next month, Paul Ryan is in a difficult position with regard to Trump. More than other office-holders, he is a leader and representative of the Republican party, and a refusal to endorse the party's nominee would have represented a major break.
Ryan could have announced his support, cited his responsibilities as Speaker and Chairman, and left it at that. Instead, he made the bizarre decision to frame his endorsement as a declaration that Trump represents his policy views. Notably, Ryan's op-ed provides no evidence for this contention. That's probably because none exists—unless, of course, Ryan has decided that Trump's agenda is the one he wants to pursue.
Perhaps Ryan thinks that, as president, Trump would be willing to sign off on whatever congressional Republicans sent to his desk. In this scenario, Ryan would drive the agenda, and Trump would merely okay it. But there's no reason to believe that this will be the case with someone as erratic as Trump. Indeed, Trump's interactions with Ryan have already shown that he is unlikely to alter his behavior in response to Ryan's brand of pressure.
When Ryan initially announced that he wasn't ready to endorse Trump, he said that Trump needed to change, saying "There's some work to be done here." Trump, in turn, responded with characteristic belligerence, saying that he was "not ready to support Speaker Ryan's agenda." Since then, Trump has shown no signs that he has evolved in the slightest, in either tone or substance. Ryan went ahead and endorsed him anyway.
Future interactions between the two are likely to play out the same way, with Ryan setting expectations, Trump refusing to comply, and Ryan playing along anyway. So maybe Paul Ryan and Donald Trump will find common ground on agenda. But if so, it will be Trump's, not Ryan's.