The Donald Trump juggernaut may prove so potent that it doesn’t matter whether congressional Republicans hop on board with him or not. Therefore, is a full-blown endorsement from House Speaker Paul Ryan even required?
Would it matter if Ryan, R-Wis., kept Trump at arm's-length? And if Trump’s political dexterity is so dominant, maybe congressional Republicans who politically need to keep their distance can stay out of it.
Little is settled politically a week after Ryan and Trump held their summit on Capitol Hill. Some congressional Republicans are still scratching their heads as to how the party wound up here. Others understand the seismic political shock which is rattling GOPers in the halls of Congress and latched onto the Trump bandwagon. There’s worry some could soon find themselves scratching for relevance if they don’t sign on. The Trump procession might just bowl them over.
The Trump cavalcade razed the Republican Party. And while Republicans in Congress nibbled for years around the edges of repealing ObamaCare and free trade and, in some cases, immigration reform … well, that really isn’t where the GOP wound up once Trump arrived on the scene.
Does Trump even need congressional Republicans?
Consider the fact that Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., R-Calif., and other early congressional Trump backers called for a meeting the same day he jawboned with Ryan. After all, dance with the girl who brung ‘ya, right?
“They said they didn’t have time,” snorted Hunter about the snub as he attempted to duck into the men’s room just off the House floor.
When asked whether Trump’s dis tempered his support for Trump, Hunter paused and proudly unfurled a white “Trump 2016” T-shirt he clutched in his left hand.
“[Not meeting with us] put our guys in a tough spot,” said one GOP source close to the pro-Trump caucus. “They should have met with us first.”
That said, such a meeting between Trump and his most-ardent congressional supporters is expected soon. Trump intends to meet with all House Republicans as well.
After all, it’s only natural for the head of the party to meet with the field lieutenants.
It’s clear Ryan thinks of Trump as the top GOP dog.
“Good Lord, I hope [he] is, because the person who is getting the nomination is the person to lead our party,” said Ryan of Trump when asked.
After their conclave last week, Trump and Ryan published a joint statement. The only concrete item immediately binding Trump and Ryan is their mutual goal of defeating Hillary Clinton. That’s why Ryan’s consumed with trying to forge “party unification” lest the GOP “go into the fall at half strength.” He says he doesn’t want anything to be “fake.”
So ensconced behind the scenes are rolling, nebulous discussions between Trump’s aides, party officials and congressional Republican aides about “policy.”
Ryan’s supposed to be the Capitol Hill “policy guy.” He’s argued for a Congress of “ideas.” But it’s unclear if everyone can get on the same page.
Said one senior House GOPer to Fox News: “Even Trump’s people are still trying to figure out where Trump stands on things.”
Ryan advocates slicing taxes. Curbing the national debt through restructuring entitlement programs. Free trade. He views the importance of immigration reform through a critical economic framework.
Where does Trump stand on these issues? Some of Trump’s most-vocal congressional advocates concede there are differences between the presumptive nominee and Ryan – let alone many Republicans. They point to possible danger for Ryan and rank-and-file Republicans. They may have to forgo time-honed principles just to get behind Trump.
And if Ryan and other Republicans don’t? Danger lurks. That’s because old-style GOP positions no longer align with the guy who now struts around as the most popular man in the room.
“Voters are fed up. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the system,” said Trump backer Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa. “Washington ought to be bulldozed.”
Marino argues that “in the not too distant future, Paul is going to endorse.”
Of course, Ryan probably has to eventually back Trump. Otherwise, the story becomes the speaker of the House and chair of the convention refusing to back the nominee. That’s a scenario the speaker wants to avoid.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is singing from the same policy hymnal.
And what if everything suddenly goes south for Trump? Ryan and GOPers could be happy they aren’t latched too closely to Trump. That’s to say nothing of lawmakers who have reservations about Trump.
“[Trump’s] remarks add to the uneasiness that women leaders are feeling,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “Trump really needs to address those concerns.”
Late Wednesday, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., announced she voted by mail for Trump in her home state’s primary.
“Did I cast my ballot with enthusiasm? Not exactly,” wrote McMorris Rodgers on Facebook.
The congresswoman said she “vehemently” disagrees with some of Trump’s remarks about women and persons with disabilities. She herself has a son with a disability
“He will have to earn the Presidency by demonstrating that he has the temperament for the job,” added McMorris Rodgers.
Lawmakers are usually deft when it comes to finding the right political pathway. But this time around, it’s anybody’s guess which is the right way to go.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.