House speaker Paul Ryan began the slow, arduous journey to a Trump endorsement today.
Oh, he may insist he’s not there yet, and that he and Trump will need more time to work out differences. But Ryan’s tone this morning was conciliatory and optimistic, pointing out the two men’s similar assessment of the nation’s problems and calling Trump “warm” and “genuine.” He didn’t dwell on policy differences.
You don’t just give up your endorsement on the first date. There will be more meetings and dates. Ryan will be able to keep a safe distance from any controversial Trump statements, at least until July or so. And then Ryan will endorse him. Because the alternative — to declare to the country, “as a conservative Republican, I cannot in good faith vote for this man, and don’t trust him with the power of the presidency; we must find another option” — would almost certainly cost Trump the presidency and ensure Trump voters never supported any “traditional” Republican.
Throughout this past week, we’ve seen onetime vehement Trump opponents like Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal conclude they can live with a President Trump, simply because he wouldn’t be President Hillary Clinton. Sure, both Presidents Bush, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are refusing to endorse or support, but they don’t have to face an electorate again. Other than Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, almost every Republican in Congress will offer some variation of, “well, he’s better than Hillary” and hope that mollifies constituents who are split between diehard Trump fans and #NeverTrump conservatives.
We’re watching a real-life rivals-handcuffed-together trope: Ryan and Trump are the two antagonistic rivals handcuffed to each other who need to cooperate to escape. The policy differences don’t matter that much in the short term; no one is enacting any changes to entitlements, trade policy, or immigration before January 2017. Ryan might get some of what he wants under a President Trump but would get almost nothing under a President Hilary Clinton; Trump is likely to get more of what he wants from a Republican-held House than under Speaker Nancy Pelosi.