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Paul Ryan's Game Of Hard-To-Get

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Paul Ryan could have saved himself a lot of trouble the moment Donald Trump became the obvious Republican nominee. He could have stepped before a bank of microphones and said:


“ I congratulate Donald Trump for becoming the presumptive nominee of our party. I will obviously work with him to achieve the goal all Republicans share, the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

“But this has been a tough primary season, and there are voters who supported other candidates who have questions for Mr. Trump. I have questions for Mr. Trump. So as we move forward toward victory in November, I look forward to conversations with him in a quest for common ground. There will be differences, but none of those will outweigh the absolute necessity of preventing a third Obama term.”

Boom. Done. Was that so hard?

Those words would have made clear that Ryan was speaking for the various corners of the party who have some concerns about our nominee, but without the absurdity of the straight-up snub that led to the last few days of completely needless negative stories about a Republican civil war.

Is the party divided? Of course it is. When are we not? Are the current divisions sharper and deeper than usual? Yes, they are. But we can handle it one of two ways: We can wrap our heads around the path we have traveled, and manage our differences like grownups, or we can have posturing and tap-dancing as a bunch of Trump skeptics stroke their chins and play games. And to what end? So we can know they are really, really, worried and oh, so serious about their Trump criticisms? Okay, we get it. Be worried, Lord knows he’ll give us occasional reason to be. But the notion that these perturbations rise to one-tenth of the horrors of a Clinton regime is absurd.


We all know there are Republicans freaking out in ten languages that Trump is the nominee. Yes, it’s a white-knuckle ride that has featured some casualties. But we are where we are. There is only one question, and it has been coming down the track toward every Republican for weeks if not months: If Trump is the nominee, what will you do?

There was no excuse for the most powerful Republican in America to be caught flat-footed on the occasion of the Trump moment of inevitability. But there he was, telling us “it’s a process” and he’d need some time before knowing if he could support the only human being that can stop a Hillary presidency.

If some random Never-Trumper in private life needs some time to wake up and get clarity, fine. But the Republican Speaker of the House does not have that luxury. He owes his party, at every moment, words and behavior that increase his party’s chances of winning back the White House. He does not get a few weeks to twiddle his thumbs waiting for Donald Trump to kiss the ring.

I understand Ryan. I understand all of the conservatives with serious concerns over where the whole Trump show is headed. I have some of the same concerns. He resonates on core values of tougher borders, job creation and blasting through the fog of political correctness, but how can he talk about beating ISIS one moment while yearning to get out of the Middle East the next? His trade policies may insulate some U.S. jobs, but is the cost of a trade war worth it? And do we need to check our watches to monitor his hourly shifts on the minimum wage?


But the other candidate who would have spared us these tensions didn’t make it. Ted Cruz is no longer an option. Our fate rests with the Trump campaign, which we should all hope plots a course with more pluses than minuses from a conservative perspective. It will surely blaze a batter trail than the guaranteed nightmare of Hillary Clinton in the White House.

Ryan could have voiced his concerns while also making clear he would not leave every Republican voter twisting in the wind while he formulates criteria that would earn his seal of approval.

The only approval necessary to this decision was the thumbs-up of more than ten million voters who gave Trump his decisive victory over a field of sixteen rivals. After that, rank and file Republicans may dawdle as they wish, but the big names need to focus on the task at hand.

Thursday’s meeting apparently went well, but Ryan again distanced from the stance we know he will eventually take. Asked if he was ready to endorse, he dragged us back into his fog of indecision. “It takes a little time. You don’t put it together in 45 minutes.”

Then clear the afternoon. What else is more important? What are we all being asked to wait for? Some magical moment when Paul Ryan achieves a comfort zone enabling him to finally bestow the support we all know is coming?

We know it won’t be a big bro-hug reception at Trump Tower. No one is asking that of either man. Trump’s job Thursday was to walk into that room and make Paul Ryan feel better about the decision the voters made. He apparently did that, as Ryan called the chat “very encouraging.” So what paralyzes Ryan now? Does he envision some cataclysmic event that makes him say, “That’s it, I’m out. A Hillary presidency is actually better than this?”


There are some panicked souls actually saying that, but our Republican House Speaker is never going to be one of them. As such, he needs to ditch the posturing and get behind our nominee.

Maybe the problem is with the language. What does “endorse” mean? Is it a declaration that says “I gladly associate myself with everything you do, and will defend everything you say?” Or is it a tactical statement: “I support your candidacy against your opponent and will do what I can to help you win.”

Ryan knows the latter is all that is asked of him, and he will then have months to schedule as many meetings as he wishes with the nominee, perhaps in sessions lasting an entire hour or more.

So what’s with the hard-to-get? I’d hate to think it is to curry favor with the establishment elites who have finally discovered a spine in opposing Trump that they never showed in opposing Obama. After their meeting, just as people who actually want to beat Hillary were blistering Ryan for his cat-and-mouse game, you know the Trump-haters were grilling him from the other side for daring to show a sliver of tolerance for their nemesis.

Ryan spoke of a quest for something better than “fake unification.” So here’s an idea: how about real unification, led by you? It’s the Republican party; not only will policy squabbles with Trump be tolerated, they are positively expected. Ryan never faced some binary choice between fawning support and sworn opposition. This has been a wholly unnecessary drama.

Once Ryan decides to get with the program, there is a task he would probably tackle with enthusiasm: a push to spread the word about down-ballot urgency. I know all the smart kids are saying Trump will have a poisonous effect on every other level of elected office November 8, but what if that’s another of their blown calls?


What if whole new waves of fresh Republican voters, many in previously blue states, actually affix some other Republican names to their GOP vote for President? Between now and then, all of the conservatives wasting energy bagging on Trump can devote themselves to a more productive enterprise. They should remind voters of the importance of protecting Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and bolstering the decisive majorities the GOP enjoys among Governors and state legislators.

For the grumbling malcontents, this noble undertaking could even contain a measure of benign snark, as in: “If Trump is going to be President, we’d better surround him with as much conservatism as possible.” Whatever it takes to get all hands on deck.

For his part, the nominee needs to embrace his responsibilities. If Trump seeks unified followers, he should invite them with a welcoming attitude that says he is open to learning additional fluency in the core values of conservatism. This will not cost him one supporter he has already earned, and would win over portions of the party for whom he was not the first, or maybe even twelfth, choice.

And now that he scarcely needs to spend long hours campaigning in upcoming West Coast primary states, he would do well to sit quietly for long periods and actually think about stuff he says. I don’t even mean the wheels-off juvenile moments he treated us to some months ago; I believe those have waned with the pressures of the primary season. I mean actual issues.


This is going to be a challenging enough sell. We do not need to be chasing shifting positions from week to week. The recent flip toward a higher minimum wage is not good; the fine-tuning of the understandable but wholly impractical Muslim ban probably is. But in all cases, it is a good idea for Trump to determine what he believes and stick to it like glue. It is time to see a more disciplined candidate. His opponent may be flawed in numerous ways, but if there is one thing she will bring, it is a singular focus on demonizing him.

it would be a good idea if she did not have Republican help in those attacks.

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