While presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan “come from the same principles,” the two couldn’t be further apart on policy. That in part is because Trump prides himself on style, while Ryan — a policy wonk — is focused heavily on substance. Yet as the country moves towards national elections in November, finding common ground is critical to protecting seats for the GOP in the House and Senate.
Leaving their much anticipated Capitol Hill meeting on Thursday, both men said that they remained “…confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal.”
Yet, as important as the 2016 elections are, Ryan’s responsibility transcends November’s results — whatever they may be. In his role as Speaker, he has a unique opportunity to shift the paradigm of the party, and he takes his responsibility very seriously. His strong refusal to enter the presidential race didn’t just stem from humility — it’s the obligation he feels to preserve the soul of the Republican Party. Despite bumps in the road, the Speaker is busy building the party’s policy agenda, and ultimately shaping 2016 GOP platform.
As Trump transitions from presumptive nominee to GOP standard bearer, the policy roadmap Ryan lays out will be vital to the candidate notoriously heavy on rhetoric, but light on substance. The party’s deep ideological focus hasn’t always translated into feasible policy solutions, and often those ideas haven’t been advanced effectively beyond think tank white papers and legislation that are dead upon arrival. But that needs to change — and fast — if the GOP wants preserve seats in Congress and have any shot at the White House.
Republicans have enjoyed a strong numeric majority over the past 6 years, yet the lack of progress and constant infighting have proved an imminent threat to their leadership. The conservative wing of the party has a better friend in Ryan and his chief of staff than it’s had in a decade. If those members continue to make leading hard for the current Speaker, they should put some thought into how things would work if Republicans are back in the minority — a very real scenario in the current state of politics.
While engrossed in an epic battle to advance conservatism, many members forgot that they and their colleagues actually have to win elections to continue governing. The opportunity to govern in good times evolves out of the compromises needed to govern in hard times.
Pundits mock Trump for his fervor to “make deals,” but maybe some sitting members should focus a little harder on trying to make them. ‘Compromise’ is not a four letter word.
The party is changing. It’s going through a lot of growing pains, but it’s becoming more inclusive and broadened its appeal to a new generation of voters. Trump’s candidacy certainly threw the GOP a curveball this cycle, but now that political realities have solidified, Ryan represents the best vehicle to move the party forward in today’s increasingly turbulent political and social climate — but only if his members let him.
Leslie Belcher is managing director at Steptoe & Johnson LLP