And when he had the stage to himself Tuesday, Trump punctured any semblance of unity between the two men:
“Oh, no. I have come to appreciate him,” Trump said, quelling the crowd's boos at the mention of their home state politician (an anti-establishment sentiment Trump himself helped stir up during the campaign). “Speaker Paul Ryan. Where is the speaker? Where is he? He has been, I tell you, he has been terrific. And you know, honestly, he is like a fine wine. Every day goes by, I get to appreciate his genius more and more. Now, if he ever goes against me, I'm not going to say that, okay?”
It was one of those lines that's a joke, but also not a joke — both of those things, at the exact same time. And the message was clear: We're friends ... until I don't feel like it anymore.
As we've written before, Trump has reason to be skeptical of his new friends on Capitol Hill.
Given how the presidential election played out publicly among Republicans, it sure does look like GOP leaders' feelings about Trump were contingent on his political success. And Trump knows it. Here's what he said in a Thanksgiving-week interview with the New York Times:
Ryan spent most of the campaign doing everything he could to avoid appearing with Trump in public. When Trump would hold a rally in Wisconsin, Ryan and the Republican establishment were out of the state, or otherwise engaged.
It was big news when we learned that Ryan, the top-ranking Republican in Washington, would even be speaking at the Republican National Convention in July. In his speech, he mentioned Trump exactly two times. He released a glowing video afterward of that speech that was conspicuously devoid of any mention or image of Trump. If you had chosen that week to tune into politics, you could be forgiven for not knowing the Republican Party was even nominating Trump for president.
All told, Ryan disagreed with Trump or denounced something he said an average of once every week-and-half or so during the campaign.
Actually, we stopped counting in October, because that's when Ryan seemed to give up on Trump, in the most dramatic fashion possible.
The moment came when the speaker had finally been ready to appear in public with his party's nominee, inviting Trump to his annual fall festival in Wisconsin.
But, less than 24 hours before the big event, The Washington Post released that 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape where Trump bragged about making passes at married women and grabbing women by the genitals.
Trump was promptly disinvited from the Wisconsin event. Ryan was booed by Trump supporters when he took the stage. And two days later, Ryan announced to his fellow Hill Republicans he was done campaigning for or defending Trump — the political equivalent of a breakup.
Flash forward to this extraordinary moment of unity Tuesday, and you might think the two men have made up.
But Trump put Ryan on notice: Whether or not he's in forgiveness mode, that status isn't necessarily permanent. And he hasn't forgotten a thing.