After his surprise win, congressional Republicans were effusive in their praise for Donald Trump.
“Let me just say, this is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said the day after the election, adding later: “Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected with — he connected in ways with people no one else did. He turned politics on its head.”
Trump, though, knows the first rule of any rocky relationship: Enjoy the good times. Just don't count on them.
Here's what the president-elect said in his wide-ranging interview Tuesday with the New York Times:
In other words: When it looked like I was going to lose, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) weren't too keen on me. Now that I've won, they're smitten.
We can see how Trump came to that conclusion. Given what we know about how the presidential election played out publicly among Republicans, it does look like GOP leaders' feelings about Trump were contingent on his political success.
When Ryan became speaker last fall, his opening message to his colleagues and his party was essentially: “I need a Republican president. Badly.”
But when it looked like Trump was going to be his only chance for a Republican president, Ryan did not embrace him. And when Trump officially won the nomination, Ryan hesitated to endorse him.
When he did endorse Trump, Ryan averaged once a week or so disagreeing with or denouncing Trump. Among Ryan's most memorable comments was calling Trump's criticism of a federal judge's Mexican heritage “the textbook definition of racism.”
Trump was the least-liked major-party nominee in modern history, and he spewed controversial statement after controversial statement that made him toxic with the very voters Republicans were trying to court: women and minorities (or so we thought).
By the time the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape came out in October, Ryan felt he had no choice but to give up on Trump. Republicans were going to lose the White House, he reasoned, so it was time to try to save their congressional majorities. In return, Trump's allies suggested they'd try to push Ryan out as speaker.
Ryan's bouts with Trump caught most of the attention, but McConnell didn't appear to have a significantly better relationship with Trump during the election.
We're rehashing this not to pass judgment on how Ryan or McConnell — or any of the dozens of Republicans who felt they were in a no-win situation with Trump — reacted to their controversial nominee.
Rather, it's to underscore that there's so much history between the two camps that it stands to reason things are probably more than a little awkward now that Trump won, and they all have to work together.
Some free advice here: This is something they'll have to get over quickly. You mix awkwardness with the already tenuous relationship Trump and Hill Republicans have — and Trump's penchant for holding onto grudges — and it's easy to see how Trump and Congress build a relationship on contingency and suspicion rather than trust and mutual respect.
Is it possible I'm reading too much into Trump's comment to the New York Times? Sure. Ryan seems really, really, really excited to have a Republican president. And despite all their troubles, Ryan has maintained all along that he believes Trump will support Republicans' congressional priorities — tax reform, health-care reform (but maybe not a full *repeal* of Obamacare), national security, putting a conservative on the Supreme Court.
“Our relationship is fine,” Ryan told reporters after the election, describing his conversations with Trump as “excellent.”
Republicans' immediate political fortunes may depend on the Trump-Ryan-McConnell relationship being at least “fine.” After they fill their Supreme Court vacancy, the GOP will control a majority of all branches of government. They have a lot riding on being able to govern well. Together.