POLITICS

Paul Ryan's Donald Trump Dilemma

For the speaker, there are no great options here.

This isn't where House Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to be.

Ryan announced on Thursday, through a carefully choreographed interview on CNN, that he can't endorse presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. Not at this time, at least.

The Wisconsin Republican was clear on that last point over and over again. He hopes to get there. He wants to get there. But as of now, he just can't bring himself to jump into bed with Trump. 

In discussions with aides and people close to Ryan, it's clear the speaker surveyed the situation, decided he had no good options, and, in the end, went with his gut. 

Had Ryan immediately endorsed Trump, he'd be connecting House Republicans -- and himself -- to Trump's toxic brand of politics. He'd be disregarding the offensive, sometimes insane things Trump has said over the course of this campaign and pretending that all is well.

All is not well, and Ryan wanted some say over it.

By holding off on a formal Trump endorsement, Ryan seems to be hoping that Trump will temper his rhetoric -- if that's what you call tweets about taco bowls and decades of horrible quotes about women -- and start acting like someone who is running for the highest office in the country.

If Trump doesn't do that, Ryan will have insulated the GOP from the incendiary real estate mogul -- and made himself look like one of the few adults in the Republican Party.

And if Trump does clean up his act, Ryan can take some credit for taming a madman.

"This cuts both ways -- benefits and consequences -- but he had to do what he thought was right," a person close to Ryan told The Huffington Post. "And now there's an opportunity to potentially nurture something good out of it and actually win the White House this year."

Ryan discussed his options with a few of his top aides on Wednesday after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) somewhat unexpectedly bowed out of the race. Here's how they saw his choices: endorse now, announce that he won't ever endorse Trump, or split the difference.

Ryan could have even held off on a decision by trotting out the line that, as the GOP convention chairman, he'd be staying neutral.

In the end, though, Ryan went with what sources insist is his actual position: He wants to get there, but he isn't there yet.

One source close to Ryan also insisted the speaker was unlikely to endorse Trump after one meeting. (The two men are expected to get in a room next Thursday at the Republican National Committee offices in Washington and discuss their differences.)

But Ryan's decision comes with some trade-offs. By declining to endorse Trump right away, he immediately alienates some Trump voters. He appears tone-deaf to the apparent sea change in the GOP. And he risks the wrath of a political figure who has thus far been able to destroy whatever stands in his way.

Ryan almost certainly does not want to get into a pissing contest with Trump -- but this could be exactly where things are headed.

In the immediate aftermath of Ryan's surprise announcement, Trump's campaign released a statement aiming to turn the tables on Ryan. Trump said he couldn't support Ryan's agenda.

"Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people," Trump said. "They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!"

Never mind that Ryan hasn't actually provided details about what his agenda is.

Trump's spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, was more direct in her indictment of Ryan, telling CNN that he shouldn't be speaker if he can't get behind Trump.

"He talks about unity but what is this about unity?" Trump said of Ryan on Friday, according to The Associated Press. "With millions of people coming into the party, obviously I'm saying the right thing."

Of course, Trump and his campaign probably don't recognize the danger in branding Ryan, a popular, prominent Republican, as the face of the "Never Trump" movement -- even if that's not a position Ryan actually wants. 

Either way, the rift between two of the party's biggest standard-bearers could further tear apart Republicans.

But supporting Trump simply for the sake of supporting the party could also be the worse treason. And Ryan seems to comprehend that.

HuffPost

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