House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) confirmed Thursday that he will be voting for Donald Trump in the November presidential election, ending a month-long game of will-he-or-won't-he that concluded with more of a whimper than a bang.
Ryan tweeted out the news just after 3 p.m. Eastern time, just as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had begun her much publicized foreign policy speech aimed at discrediting Trump. That speech was being carried live by all three cable networks and had the attention of the entire political world. That coincidence was not a coincidence. (Fix rule: There are no coincidences in politics.)
And, Ryan was careful — both in the tweet and the op-ed piece he wrote announcing his decision — to carefully walk the line between voting for Trump and endorsing Trump. Asked about the seeming inconsistency, a Ryan aide told the Janesville Gazette that “he said he'll vote for Trump in the piece. That speaks for itself, in our view.” Brendan Buck, a Ryan adviser, quickly clarified:
Then there is the way Ryan cast his support in that op-ed. Here's the key bit:
Donald Trump and I have talked at great length about things such as the proper role of the executive and fundamental principles such as the protection of life. The list of potential Supreme Court nominees he released after our first meeting was very encouraging.
But the House policy agenda has been the main focus of our dialogue. We’ve talked about the common ground this agenda can represent. We’ve discussed how the House can be a driver of policy ideas. We’ve talked about how important these reforms are to saving our country. And we’ve talked about how, by focusing on issues that unite Republicans, we can work together to heal the fissures developed through the primary.
Through these conversations, I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives. That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall.
The message is clear: Ryan is voting for Trump because Trump told him he would support the Ryan agenda in the House. What that means is that Ryan isn't backing Trump's outlined agenda for the GOP and the country. Instead, Ryan believes, Trump is endorsing his.
All of this mishigas — from Ryan's initial hesitation about backing Trump to his meeting in Washington with the real estate mogul — is evidence of just how painful, politically and personally, this is for Ryan. Trump represents so much of what Ryan has spent his time in office trying to move the Republican brand beyond — both rhetorically and on policy. At the same time, Ryan understands that Trump is the de facto leader of the GOP — for at least the next five months — and doing anything other than voting for him really isn't an option.
Tim Miller, former communications director for Jeb Bush's presidential campaign, put it nicely in this tweet.
What Ryan did is a kind of, sort of endorsement. At every turn, Ryan seems to be saying, "I am going to vote for him. but. ..."
Welcome to 2016. The "Okay, but" election for Republicans.