Is the Trump-Ryan unity quest a sham marriage?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 12, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The process of unifying the Republican Party, which just finished a primary about a week ago, perhaps one of the most divisive primaries in memory, takes some time.

I heard a lot of good things from our presumptive nominee, and we exchanged differences of opinion on a number of things that, you know, everybody knows we have. But on core principles, those are the kinds of things that we discussed, and, again, I'm encouraged.


DOUG MCKELWAY, GUEST ANCHOR: Well, the highly anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan on the House side, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell on the Senate side has now finally happened. And despite widespread speculation that it might further expose the cavernous divide that marks the GOP, it had quite the opposite effect many are saying.

Let's bring in our panel right now: Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post; Mercedes Schlapp of U.S. News & World Report, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, observations?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm not among the many who thought it smoothed over the divide. Yes, of course it did rhetorically. But whenever you talk process, what you mean is we did not conclude a peace. We've had a peace process in the Middle East for 50 years. The reason that you have it is to give the appearance that something is happening but you know there's never going to be an endpoint.

Here there will be an endpoint. There will be a point at which Ryan will give a perfunctory endorsement and then people will ignore him until November. But the fact that they came out of this with a joint statement that said we remain confident there's a great opportunity to unify the party, the meeting was supposed to do something that would unify the party. It's clear that an opportunity exists is what we already knew.

This is a sham marriage, and the reason is simple -- good will on both sides, but Paul Ryan is a conservative, has been all his life, and committed to certain conservative principles. Trump has made it clear he's not a conservative. He's a nationalist populist. There are a lot of arguments in favor of that, but it isn't conservatism, that he himself stressed when he said that the Republican Party is not called the conservative party. Those are differences you never bridge. By making this a process and dragging it out, what Ryan has done is to prolong his independence and to be the shelter and the locus of what's left of conservatism in the party.

MCKELWAY: Let's listen to what Donald Trump had to say about the meeting himself.


DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he's doing a good job. He's got not an easy job. I don't mind going through a little bit of a slow process. It's a very big subject. We have a lot of things. And I think for the most part we agree on a lot of different items. And we're getting there. I feel very strongly about border security. I feel very strongly about trade. I feel very strongly about building up the military. And to a large extent I think Paul is there also.


MCKELWAY: Mercedes, it strikes me that Paul Ryan is approaching this in terms that Donald Trump can understand, as a negotiation. You stake out your position at the very start. You give what you can at the start. And it gets more difficult as you go along. And we're going to have further meetings.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Yes, we are. I feel that there's, we need sort of a duct tape around this fragile GOP, and that's what I think that Ryan and Trump are trying to do. They're trying to keep the party somehow together.

With that being said, I thought it was interesting. I'm not as negative as Charles. I feel that Ryan by validating Trump, it was sort of the baptism of Trump, and Reince Priebus being the godfather of this process. I think it was fascinating to see that Trump, he did, Ryan did approach it from the sense of saying, look, he overwhelmingly has won millions of votes. We need to find a way to find the core principles together.

The problem here will be, will Trump stick to the deal? Will he be able to pivot towards talking about promoting a conservative agenda, something that's more in line with Ryan, something that's more in line with not only the congressional wing but also the conservative branch of the Republicans. That's going to be the next step for Donald Trump. Will he be able to reach out to those conservatives out there who are feeling like they don't have a home, especially after Cruz was defeated?

MCKELWAY: I'm struck, Chuck, how malleable political opposition can be. And this is a classic case of that. Let's take a look at some statements from various Republicans. John Boehner at a conference of the finance industry in Las Vegas today said that Trump is indeed the presumptive nominee, quote, "Whether people like it or not. And anyone who thinks Donald Trump can't win, just watch." Orrin Hatch, the president pro tem of the Senate, longest-serving senator, quote, "I hope Donald will listen to policy makers and carefully consider his approach to issues like international trade, religious liberty, and entitlement reform. I have offered to help identify future Supreme Court candidates he should consider, and I will continue to encourage Donald to soften some of his rhetoric and always act in a manner worth of a presidential nominee."

And lastly, Lindsey Graham, who was perhaps the most vociferous of Republican opponents to Donald Trump, he said, quote, "I had a cordial, pleasant phone conversation with Mr. Trump. I congratulated him on winning the Republican nomination for president. I know Mr. Trump is reaching out to many people throughout the party and country to solicit their advice and opinions. I believe this is a wise move on his part."

CHARLES LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it's like a giant get to know you party in some ways because in truth people like Paul Ryan just don't even know Donald Trump. They haven't met very often. They haven't talked. And most importantly from a political point of view, they have established none of the real human trust which is what ultimately carries the day in political interactions.

But, you know, there's a problem for Paul Ryan. It's true that he is trying to buy time and win space which can then be filled with sort of the conservative policy agenda that he believes in so strongly. But his problem is that that agenda was rejected by the Republican primary electorate. Donald Trump ran against it. Donald Trump was rebuked on the Muslim statement that he made by Paul Ryan personally -- I believe we showed the clip on Fox -- and went on to win with that issue. Entitlements, he is against the Paul Ryan approach.

So I'm not sure -- and I think another thing that Ryan is exploring, given all that, where am I going to get my leverage over this guy, because at the end of the day Trump can say, look, you're telling me I've got to doubt this conservative agenda, but I just showed that it isn't even popular among the party faithful.

KRAUTHAMMER: You guys are talking about the elected leaders of the Congress, the so-called establishment, as if some day they were appointed by who knows who and ruled over the GOP. These, what Ryan is leading is a group of roughly 250 people in the Congress, all of whom were elected. And they were elected and supported the Ryan agenda, which was the classic Reagan agenda. And in 2011 they were able to vote under Ryan's leadership for what was called a suicidal Medicare reform, and people said it will kill the party. The party did extremely well afterwards in 2014.

SCHLAPP: Where they fail, Charles, is the fact this that they weren't able to implement the agenda, right? They couldn't repeal Obamacare. They couldn't stop the president from executive actions on immigration. And that is why you've had the GOP reject what Chuck said about the actual agenda itself.

So where they can agree, Charles, is on the economic growth. The fact that we have seen a weak economy for especially in the last GDP report. And what you're finding right now is the fact that that is where I think that you can find some sort of agreement where they need to grow the economy. And I think that's where you're going to find where Ryan and Trump are going to be able to --

MCKELWAY: Let me ask you a question. Does Trump need a Ryan or to a lesser extent or to a greater extent, McConnell? Take a look at this picture of protesters outside the Senate meeting today. These are all Republicans, pictures of Republicans, who have superimposed on their heads, "Make America great" hats again. Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump need to come to agreement to preserve these guys' jobs.

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think that it's going to be critical whether individually or not the senators support Trump. The question is, what will conservatives do, the 60 percent of Republican primary voters who did not support him, people who came into the GOP inspired by Reaganism and conservatism? He has to get to them, because without them he has no chance of winning.

Let me just make one point. The idea that the Republicans in Congress failed is absurd. Ryan was able to get Republicans to support Medicare reform. Under our constitution, you can't do it from one house. They did what they could, and of course under a Democratic administration you're not able to succeed. That standard of success is absurd.

LANE: But Charles, that's the standard of success that the GOP base is holding them to it.

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes, and it's an incorrect one, unfortunately. It's a perception, but not all perception is reality. And the people aren't always right. They certainly weren't right in electing Obama in 2008.

One other thing. Today a court ruled that Obama acted unconstitutionally in subsidizing the insurance companies through what's called risk corridors. This was a suit brought by the House. It took a year to get where it would get. That is the only kind of resistance that would be effective. It takes time. And those who attack the GOP for not succeeding in abolishing Obamacare have to recognize it's impossible with Obama in the White House.

SCHLAPP: It takes better messaging from the GOP.

MCKELWAY: The discussion will continue here, but most importantly up there as well.

A quick update at the situation at Andrews Air Force Base. It has been resolved and the all clear signal has been given. A woman had walked to the main gate at Andrews Air Force Base claiming to have a bomb. There is no immediate word if she had one or not.

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