House Speaker Paul D. Ryan made the pilgrimage Friday morning that many former critics of Donald Trump have made since the election: up to Trump Tower in Manhattan for a meeting with the president-elect and then a walk through the lobby to address reporters wanting to know how it feels.
“Very exciting meeting,” Ryan (R-Wis.) said in remarks that lasted mere seconds. “I really enjoyed coming up here and meeting with the president-elect. We had a great meeting to talk about our transition. We are really excited about getting to work and hitting the ground running in 2017. And getting this country back on track.”
Over the past month, the president-elect and his team have been mending relationships within their party, meeting with former rivals who resisted the idea of Trump becoming president but are now willing to work with him. But forgiveness often comes only after accepting a heap of humility.
The parade of shame has included GOP primaries opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the previous Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. On Monday, Trump’s team expects the arrival of Carly Fiorina, the former business chief executive and presidential candidate who Trump suggested was unattractive. And the ritual isn’t reserved just for Republicans: Trump invited a group of television personalities and executives to the tower soon after the election, and then yelled at them for underestimating him and accused them of dishonest reporting about his campaign, surprising and unsettling many attendants.
John Weaver, a strategist for Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) who has been critical of Trump, said he understands why former critics are having these meetings — but he worries that embracing Trump has led some to embrace his approach and policies, abandoning long-held Republican principles. Weaver said he has already seen it happen with free trade and federal spending, and he worries that it could also happen with the country’s approach to Russia.
“Some leaders are rolling over for Mr. Trump,” Weaver said.
Sometimes Trump’s guests secretly slip upstairs without being seen, but they frequently have to run the gantlet that has become the Trump Tower lobby — a maze that twists through packs of tourists with cameras, a horde of reporters screaming questions and a C-SPAN live feed. Part of pleasing the president-elect often involves public praise.
When Cruz visited a week after the election, he managed to slip upstairs undetected. During the campaign, Trump compared the attractiveness of their wives, suggested that Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and raised questions about Cruz’s eligibility for the presidency, since he was born in Canada. Cruz refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention but did so just before the election.
After the Trump Towers meeting, Cruz took a more direct route through the lobby. It was nearly 7 p.m., and most reporters had left for the evening. But the few that remained shouted questions and, when ignored, followed Cruz outside, where his escape was slowed by a heavily armed guard who wanted a photo.
Cruz continued down the block, followed by reporters who wanted to know how the meeting went. He finally stopped.
“This election was a mandate for change,” Cruz said. “The American people rose up and spoke overwhelmingly to say that the path we’re on, it didn’t work. And they want change, and they have given Republicans a historic opportunity.”
Cruz uttered the words “Donald Trump,” didn’t directly answer a question about whether he would want a position in the administration, and then took off down the street.
Romney, on the other hand, is interested in becoming secretary of state and willingly went through this exercise several times. Trump railed against Romney throughout the campaign, mocking his wealth, accusing him of having “choked” during the 2012 election and being “stupid,” and joking that he walked “like a penguin.” Romney called Trump “a phony, a fraud,” said Trump’s “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” and predicted there was a bombshell in the tax returns Trump refused to release.
Romney first met Trump at his golf club in New Jersey on Nov. 19, where the two were photographed together and where Romney took a turn in front of the cameras. Ten days later, they publicly dined at a French restaurant. Photos of the evening were quickly memed on Twitter. One photo was manipulated to show a huge crow on Romney’s plate. Another compared the dinner with a subplot from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” involving a psychopath’s grotesque physical and emotional debasement of a nobleman’s son.
But Romney was nothing but smiles and praise as he spoke to reporters after his “wonderful evening with President-elect Trump.”
“President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future,” Romney said that night.
Despite these acts of contrition, the president-elect widened his search for secretary of state this week, saying he still wasn’t ready to decide.
On Friday evening, another contender for the position — former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — publicly withdrew his name for Cabinet consideration, perhaps rendering pointless many of the cringe-worthy comments he made on Trump’s behalf over the past six months. Giuliani memorably said that “everybody” cheats on their spouse, that the Black Lives Matter movement is “inherently racist” and that Trump would be “better for the United States than a woman.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) went through a similar experience after losing to Trump. Christie became a trusted Trump adviser, only to be cast aside when the “Bridgegate” scandal blew up. A Vine video of Christie staring uneasily into the middle distance as Trump spoke a few feet away in March has been played nearly 20 million times.
“No, I wasn’t being held hostage,” Christie later had to tell reporters.
Some Republican critics have stayed away, although the list is shrinking. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have not been spotted at the tower.
Those who show respect or deference in private may still be publicly exposed: Kasich was booed by his own state’s residents during a post-election Trump rally in Cincinnati.
“In the great state of Ohio, we didn’t have the upper echelon of politicians either, did we?” Trump said, which prompted the boos. But he added, “Your governor, John Kasich, called me after the election and was very nice. He said, ‘Congratulations, that was amazing.’ ”