House Speaker Paul D. Ryan's M.O. with President Trump has been to deflect questions about his controversies and focus on the GOP agenda. All the while, Ryan has reserved some plausible deniability, sending some signals that he’s not quite all-in on Trumpism, or Trump himself.
“We already made that choice,” he said. “We’re with Trump.”
And a thousand Democratic campaign ads were born.
“We already made that choice,” Ryan repeated. “That’s a choice we made at the beginning of the year. That’s a choice we made during the campaign, which is we merged our agendas. We ran on a joint agenda with Donald Trump. We got together with Donald Trump when he was President-elect Trump and walked through what is it we want to accomplish in the next two years. We all agreed on that agenda. We’re processing that agenda.”
Again, Ryan turns it all back to the agenda and not the man himself. But these comments are significant. Ryan could have said that there are members of the party in both the Bush and Trump mold, and that they were working together on “common values.” But he instead implied that the party has chosen to shift in a Trumpian direction, and that it was committed to it.
This doesn’t mean Ryan will suddenly sign off on all of Trump’s foibles — he has offered pretty unmistakable criticisms of Trump, including the president’s response to the tragedy in Charlottesville. But it does send a signal to fellow Republicans that Trump’s policies, including his controversial brand of nationalism and anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, are now essentially the GOP platform.
To be clear: These were the policies that were at issue after the GOP’s loss in the Virginia governor’s race on Tuesday, given Ed Gillespie’s decision to try to morph from a card-carrying member of the GOP establishment into a Trump-esque culture warrior. Some of these policies are the ones the GOP establishment warned in its post-2012 election “autopsy” might severely damage the party over the long term.
The GOP has never actually made the choice to go whole-hog on those policies, no matter what Ryan said Wednesday. But he just gave it his blessing to do just that.