THE MORNING PLUM:
Today Donald Trump is in Washington, sitting down with Paul Ryan in an effort to unify the GOP. Their meeting is being widely portrayed as a momentous showdown between two titans of ideological opposition who are unlikely to budge from their deeply held philosophical principles and governing goals. As today’s New York Times intones, Trump and leading Republicans are staring each other down across a “vast political and ideological gulf.”
Hmmm, maybe. In reality, it shouldn’t be all that hard for Trump and Ryan to come together. All Trump has to do is learn to talk about policy the way many mainstream Republicans do.
There are already signs that Trump is softening on his proposed temporary ban on non-citizen Muslims from entering the United States, which Ryan, to his credit, has forcefully criticized. Here’s what Trump said on Fox:
“We have a serious problem, and it’s a temporary ban — it hasn’t been called for yet, nobody’s done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on.”
Note the clever sleight of hand there — his “until we find out what’s going on” formulation, which previously applied to the period of the Muslim ban itself, has suddenly morphed into a qualifer as to whether to implement his original proposal. It’s not clear what he means by this, but it’s garnering headlines like this one:
Trump: Muslim ban ‘just a suggestion’
If Trump so chooses, he can easily sand down his positions with rhetorical slipperiness like this, in service of making GOP unity more likely.
For instance, Trump can stop calling for mass deportations and instead say, “I’ll enforce the law.” Many Republicans say they are generally for legalization. But they haven’t done the hard work of voting on a policy package that would establish a set of conditions and circumstances acceptable to them, under which legalization could actually happen. In practice, the party-wide position is (at worst) that the 11 million should be deported or (at best) left in the shadows. When pressed on what should happen to these people, though, Republicans prefer a more politically palatable way of saying the 11 million should remain subject to removal: “we must enforce the law.”
Trump can employ this trick, too, in a slightly different way. He can effortlessly slide into claiming that “unlike lawless, open-borders Obama, I would enforce the law,” and simply repeat that phrase, again and again, when pressed on whether he would or wouldn’t carry out mass deportations. That would put him roughly on the same page as many Republicans — they’d all be committed to the same principle of “enforcing the law.”
Trump can agree that we need to “strengthen” entitlements. There is a genuine difference between Trump and Ryan here: The former doesn’t want to cut entitlements, while the latter does. However, it’s sometimes hard to say whether Republicans want to cut entitlements as an end in itself or (as many say, some sincerely) in order to put them on firmer financial footing. They often say their reforms are needed to “strengthen” the programs.
Trump can edge towards the latter position. He can agree on the broader principle that entitlements should be reformed and strengthened so they remain fiscally sound, putting him partially in sync with many Republicans, without agreeing explicitly that “cuts” are needed to get there. As David Fahrenthold reports, Ryan might be open to something like this: “A friend of Ryan’s told The Washington Post that Ryan would not demand Trump agree to his specific vision for entitlements but rather would search for common ground on broader questions of principle.” If worst comes to worst, Trump and Ryan can say they merely disagree about how to accomplish the same principled goal, i.e., keeping them strong. Trump, who says he’s leaving Medicare “as it is,” might have to adjust a bit, reiterating that he’d magically solve entitlements’ problems by making America filthy rich again, but also saying he’d be open to “reform” if it’s needed. That shouldn’t be too hard.
Trump can reaffirm his support for tax cuts. Despite widespread reporting to the contrary, Trump never actually shifted his position in the direction of tax hikes on the rich, and he has since clarified unequivocally that he would cut taxes on the rich, not raise them. All Trump has to do is reaffirm the idea that his tax cuts would unleash spectacular economic growth, and he’ll be mostly good there, too.
The Trump-Ryan gulf on free trade is, admittedly, a more difficult one. Trump wants to impose tariffs that could start trade wars, and on this he plainly differs from Ryan and many Republicans. Still, much of this shouldn’t be all that hard to do. The real trick here is for Trump to give Ryan enough cover to argue that they do in fact share a good deal of common ground on principle. That may be doable mostly through rhetorical adjustment, obfuscation, and steam-rolling over requests for specificity, all of which Trump is very good at.
Of course, Ryan also needs Trump to signal that he now understands that he’s got to stop the nonstop stream of bombast and insults, and recognizes a need to repair his dismal ratings among, well, pretty much every voter group, in order to limit the down-ticket damage his nomination might unleash. For Trump, that might be the tallest order of all.
* TRUMP WILL RELEASE TAX RETURNS, AFTER ALL. OR WILL HE? Donald Trump has now clarified that he didn’t actually say he wouldn’t release his tax returns, as the Associated Press reported had:
“I didn’t say that. I said I’m being audited. There’s a link between that and other things….So, the answer is, I’ll release. Hopefully before the election I’ll release. And I’d like to release.”
* HERE’S WHAT MIGHT BE REVEALED BY TRUMP’S RETURNS: Trump says there’s “nothing” to be learned from his returns. Glenn Kessler has a good piece explaining what actually might be learned:
First, the tax return reveals a person’s annual income….Trump is highly sensitive about suggestions that he is not as wealthy as he claims….Second, voters would understand the sources of a person’s income…Third, a tax return would disclose how much a person gives to charity….Fourth, a tax return would reveal how aggressive Trump has been on his taxes….Finally, the tax returns would disclose what percentage of Trump’s income actually goes to taxes.
Read the whole thing for the details.
* WHY PAUL RYAN MAY NOT UNIFY WITH TRUMP: The House Speaker is set to meet with Trump today, and the New York Times offers one reason why Ryan may not end up supporting him:
He and his staff play down talk of a 2020 run for the White House, but how Mr. Ryan manages Mr. Trump over the next six months will play a major role in shaping Mr. Ryan’s future….if Mr. Ryan started a campaign in four or eight years, he would begin with a formidable network of donors built up during his time in the House and while he was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.
Plausible. If Clinton wins, Republicans could have a good 2018 midterm showing and end up fielding a credible mainstream candidate in 2020. Maybe Ryan is hoping to wait out the Trump nightmare.
* POLLS WILL TIGHTEN BETWEEN TRUMP AND CLINTON: Two new polls show it: Morning Consult has Clinton leading Trump by 44-38 nationally, and YouGov/Economist has it at 42-40. The polling averages put it at 44-38.
The national averages will tighten as Republicans come back to Trump. This should not surprise anyone.
* CLINTON HAS TOUGH CHOICE AHEAD ON VEEP: The folks at Sabato’s Crystal Ball have a detailed look at the difficult decision Clinton faces on who to pick as her Veep candidate. Sherrod Brown seems obvious, but that might cost Dems his Senate seat and control of the Senate. So:
We think [Virginia Senator Tim] Kaine stands just slightly above the rest. He comes from an important swing state, Virginia, and his elevation to vice president would not cost the Democrats a Senate seat (at least not immediately). He also has a wide array of governmental experience and probably wouldn’t overly rile the pro-Sanders part of the party.
Senator Kaine, by the way, is fluent in Spanish, and has employed that fluency to advocate for immigration reform.
* TRUMP CREATES BIG PROBLEM FOR DOWN-TICKET REPUBLICANS: E.J. Dionne has a nice look at how vulnerable Senate GOP incumbents are contorting and writhing as they position themselves with regard to presumptive nominee Trump. Note this from David Axelrod:
The Chicago political veteran pointed to the paradox that Trump, whose supporters see him as someone who “speaks his mind,” is forcing many Republicans to twist themselves into philosophical pretzels as they try simultaneously to embrace and distance themselves from Trump. Axelrod spoke of the challenge before Republicans…as they try to preserve their standing as principled politicians while also preaching party unity. They will be forced to declare, in effect: “I don’t believe in anything he’s saying, but I support him because he’s the nominee of the party.”
As Axelrod adds: “That’s exactly what people hate about politics.”