In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s much-ballyhooed courtesy call to Capitol Hill on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, seemed like a groom wanting his presumptive bride to change before he does.
“This is the party of Lincoln, of Reagan, of Jack Kemp,” he said on CNN, letting it be known that the presumptive nominee still had a lot of explaining to do before he could get an endorsement from the top Republican elected official. “What a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard bearer that bears our standards.”
Not even a glimmer of such clarity emerged on Thursday. The joint statement that followed the meeting was carefully worded to give the appearance of cordiality but also made clear that the standard bearer’s standards remain a work in progress.
“While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground,” Trump and Ryan said. They will keep talking and are confident “there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall.”
So nothing got done, but they will keep at it. According to those on the periphery, Trump was in uber-charming mode after hamming it up for the crowd outside party headquarters on Capitol Hill on his way in, as if he were still campaigning. He wasn’t making any concessions. Since essentially wrapping up nomination, his preferred analogy is that he’s won the pennant, the fans love him, so why would he change his fastball for the World Series?
He is critical of Ryan’s first marriage to Mitt Romney and blames Ryan for its failure. He is fond of saying that the speaker doomed the 2012 ticket with his promises to “cut the hell out of your Social Security.” Ryan would still trim Medicare and Social Security to save them; Trump would leave them alone. That’s a hard difference to paper over.
Later in the day, Ryan said he would still be keeping the details “private,” but commented that when it comes to unifying the party, “It takes some time, you don’t put it together in 45 minutes.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a bland broker who produced a report after the 2012 shellacking that predicted irrelevance and doom if the party didn’t move to a place exactly opposite to Trump’s, told CNN the meeting was “great.”
Great was the meme of the day. Trump, unusually quiet after, tweeted a couple of hours later that it was “a great day in D.C Things working out really well.” Trump later went to Jones, Day, the law firm representing his campaign, sparking speculation that former Secretary of State James Baker, in attendance, could be on his list of vice-presidential choices.
Even if Trump had chosen to praise or adopt part of Ryan’s agenda, it wouldn’t mean much. He is inconsistent, even by the lax standards of politicians. He will jettison anything he wants — tariffs on China, a ban on Muslims (he already refers to it as temporary), maybe even saving entitlements, getting Mexico to pay for a wall and his bromance with Vladimir Putin. He may end up liking other things, such as tax increases and the Iran deal. But who knows? Not even Trump himself, it seems, can predict what he will do or say.
Just when Republicans thought they were getting close to getting some closure, the pain keeps coming. The awkward first date on Capitol Hill just added to the anguish of a week in which Trump announced this week that he intends to “put some showbiz” into the July convention in Cleveland and continued to weave and bob about releasing his tax returns, potentially becoming the first major party nominee in 40 years to refuse to do so. He’s not a Lincoln, Reagan, Kemp or Ryan Republican. He’s a Donald Trump Republican.
The final stage of grief for Republicans is: Get Used to It.