Ryan ready to end Trump standoff, confidants say

Billy House, Jennifer Jacobs and Kevin Cirilli
Bloomberg News

House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun telling confidants that he wants to end his standoff with Donald Trump in part because he’s worried the split has sharpened divisions in the Republican Party, according to two people close to the lawmaker.

Ryan aides say nothing has been decided about a possible Trump endorsement. But Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told a small group of Republican lawmakers Thursday that he expects Ryan to endorse the party’s nominee as early as this week, according to two people in the meeting.

If Ryan were to endorse Trump, the move would end a nearly unprecedented standoff between the House speaker and his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and remove the biggest remaining obstacle to Trump’s efforts to unite Republicans around his campaign.

In fact, Manafort told the gathering of Republican lawmakers that Ryan’s endorsement would put more pressure on the party’s remaining Trump holdouts to fall in line.

It would also link the speaker more directly to Trump, marking a significant break for a man who ran on a presidential ticket in 2012 with Mitt Romney — by far Trump’s loudest critic inside the party.

It’s not clear how Ryan, who said that he wasn’t interested in a "fake unification" of his party, would choreograph an endorsement after his initial public reluctance.

Asked whether Ryan is preparing to endorse Trump, AshLee Strong, a Ryan spokeswoman, said: "We don’t have an update."

Deep division

Ryan and Trump remain deeply divided over major policy issues, particularly free trade and immigration. The pair met only once in person during the standoff, in a closely watched encounter on May 12.

But behind the scenes over the past two weeks, there have been a series of meetings between Ryan and Trump aides on policy issues that could clear the way for Ryan’s endorsement.

Ryan’s chief of staff, David Hoppe, has been either attending or closely monitoring meetings away from Capitol Hill with Stephen Miller, a top Trump aide who used to work for Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, according to a person familiar with the meetings. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump.

The meetings have not yet involved other Republican congressional leadership offices. They are described by the person as a significant exchange of ideas, not just on broad political principles, but on individual issues and specific legislation.

When Ryan surprised his own caucus early this month by declining to back Trump immediately, he said he wanted to make sure that the real-estate developer was a true conservative. At the time, it appeared that many other House Republicans may have shared Ryan’s reservations.

But the speaker quickly grew isolated, as his top three lieutenants publicly backed Trump. The standoff cast doubt on how effectively Ryan could serve as chairman of the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland in July.

Explaining differences

It also thrust Ryan into the spotlight, prompting questions about whether he was trying to distance himself from the combative Trump enough to leave him in a good position to run in 2020 if the billionaire is trounced in November.

For Ryan to endorse Trump, he would have to explain away deep divisions between his positions and Trump’s. During his campaign, Trump harnessed anti-establishment anger in the Republican electorate by decrying free-trade deals and rampant immigration, while also signaling he may be open to running bigger deficits and spending money on infrastructure.

Ryan, meanwhile, has long backed free trade and an immigration overhaul, while pushing the House Republicans’ demands for a limited government with steep spending cuts.

Dan Senor, a Republican strategist and friend of Ryan’s, said Tuesday he would be disappointed if Ryan comes out in favor of Trump.

"All Republican leaders should think twice about endorsing someone who is trafficking in racism, sexism and misogyny and is not a conservative," he said on Bloomberg Television’s "With All Due Respect."

By endorsing Trump, Ryan would deal a near-fatal blow to conservative efforts to draft a third-party candidate to run against Trump and Democratic Hillary Clinton.

Trump has been invited to talk to the House Republican conference by Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who recently said that she voted for Trump in her state’s primary. Her aides and the Trump operation are still trying to arrange that meeting, according to one of her aides.