Trump's comment follows other warm fuzzies in the news this week between Team Trump and Ryan.
The Hill's Jonathan Easley and Scott Wong reported Wednesday that Ryan (R-Wis.) and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump's top political adviser, “are getting along.” The two men and a handful of top aides dined on Italian food recently and talked tax reform and nerded out about spreadsheets.
“This budding relationship has surprised and delighted members of Trump's incoming administration,” Easley and Wong report. Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway spoke willingly on the record: “There is collaboration — no confrontation — and a shared purposefulness where differences once existed.”
The very next day, Breitbart, the conservative website formerly run by Bannon, reported that Ryan “is warming up to” Trump's “ideology.” It doesn't sound like much, until you remember that just three months ago Breitbart accused Ryan of secretly trying to elect Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. So this would be a significant change of tone.
The Breitbart narrative: Ryan and Team Trump are getting along because Ryan is coming around to Trump's position on issues such as trade.
But a day before his inauguration, Trump went out of his way to offer a very different narrative about their budding relationship: They're getting along in part because he's willing to accommodate Ryan.
At the luncheon, Trump detailed a recent phone call between him and Ryan. Ryan had called to urge Trump, in Trump's words: “Let's not talk about the taxes publicly, because we want to do this one first. We're going to work on health care. It's very complicated stuff.
“I said: 'I know that. … I think you're right, I'm not going to talk about taxes.”
“The problem is,” Trump said to the audience, “I gave an interview five or six days before to the Wall Street Journal. … The following morning it came out: 'Trump on taxes.' I said, 'Believe it or not, that interview was given five days ago.'”
That remarkable, off-the-cuff interview revealed a side of Trump we rarely see in his blustery Twitter feed: A humble Trump. A Trump who wants to work with the other guy. A Trump willingly acquiescing to someone else's request. A Trump kind of (sort of) acknowledging he messed up.
These comments may be small, but they are nothing short of an alternate reality when you consider the two men's relationship just a few months ago.
After the unearthing of Trump's “Access Hollywood” tape in October, Ryan literally broke up with him, telling House Republicans he was done defending and campaigning for Trump. (Actually, Ryan never campaigned for Trump in the first place, but that's a different story.) Trump counterpunched straight to the jaw, all but starting a war with his own party in the process.
Despite winning the second debate in a landslide (every poll), it is hard to do well when Paul Ryan and others give zero support!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2016
The Trump-Ryan relationship hit rock bottom when, a week before the election, Fox News host Sean Hannity (an ally of Trump) floated the idea that if Trump won, Ryan would be out as speaker.
Since the election, the two have had their differences. Trump wants to leave Medicare alone; Ryan wants to fix it. Trump wants to slap tariffs on imported goods; Ryan wants to “adjust” prices at the border.
But those are mostly policy differences. The personal ones seem to be fading into the past quickly. And Team Trump is going out of the way the week of his inauguration to make that very clear.
When asked about their past on PBS's Charlie Rose, Ryan shrugged it off: “I’m a big boy with thick skin.”
The kumbaya vibes are very good news for Republicans in Congress who want to take advantage of having a Republican president for the first time in eight years. When Trump won, fingers were crossed in GOP Washington that these two leaders could put their contentious past behind them to work on issues they already agree on and find middle ground on some of the issues they disagree on. On the eve of Trump’s inauguration, it looked as if that’s exactly what happened.