The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
Dullest Books Ever Written
“True Life Adventures of a Democratic Superdelegate”—headline, ThinkProgress, May 11
Bottom Story of the Day
“Omaha’s Yard Waste Will Again Be Taken to the Landfill This Summer”—headline, Omaha World-Herald, May 12
The Art of the Political Deal
Donald Trump has not assigned Paul Ryan a disparaging nickname. That tells you a lot about the recent contretemps between the soon-to-be-presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the House speaker.
Trump is not treating Ryan as a foe to be vanquished but as someone with whom it is in his interest to make a deal. It is a test of the negotiation skills Trump has touted throughout the campaign. So far he seems to be passing, as does Ryan. If they succeed, it could augur well for relations between Congress and a Trump administration.
After meeting this morning, the two men put out a joint statement:
The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall. With that focus, we had a great conversation this morning. While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground. We will be having additional discussions, but remain 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. We are extremely proud of the fact that many millions of new voters have entered the primary system, far more than ever before in the Republican Party’s history. This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification.
So how come Ryan still isn’t ready to endorse Trump? Because their common interest is in unifying the party, which is a more complicated undertaking than simply making friends with each other. There is considerable hostility between pro-Trump Republicans and conventionally conservative ones, and reaching an accommodation between those two blocs requires both leaders to refrain from being too accommodating.
On the pro-Trump side, Sarah Palin told CNN Sunday: “I think Paul Ryan is soon to be ‘Cantored,’ as in Eric Cantor”—a reference to the former House majority leader who lost his 2014 re-election bid to a primary challenger. Good luck with that: A new poll from the Remington Research Group out yesterday shows Ryan leading his pro-Trump primary challenger, Paul Nehlen, 78% to 14%. Fifty-four percent of Ryan’s constituents have an unfavorable view of Palin, to only 24% favorable; Trump, too, is underwater, but barely—41% favorable, 43% unfavorable.
But while Ryan is almost certainly not vulnerable, it is also true that part of Trump’s appeal is that he is not part of, indeed is antagonistic toward, the “Republican establishment.” Thus it was smart of Trump to declare, after Ryan said last week that he wasn’t ready to make an endorsement: “I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda.”
The Washington Examiner quotes Trump’s son Eric, telling Fox’s Megyn Kelly yesterday: “Listen, if he doesn’t have the speaker’s vote and if he doesn’t have the, you know, his will or whatever it may be, we’ll go on”—or, in the Examiner’s paraphrase, “Eric Trump: We Don’t Need Paul Ryan to Win.” That may be false, and certainly Trump would be much better off with Ryan as an ally than an opponent. But a willingness to walk away from the table is a standard negotiating tactic.
On the anti-Trump side, one sees a lot of commentary to the effect of this, from Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin:
As one of the two highest-ranking Republican officeholders in the country, [Ryan] feels he cannot stand aloof from the presidential election against a Democrat that threatens to give us another four years of the Obama administration even if his party’s nominee appalls him. I think he means it when he says he’d like to unify Republicans as much as it is possible. But he also knows that he cannot lend his name and reputation to a candidate whose protectionist and isolationist stands are antithetical to everything that Ryan believes in and whose behavior disgraces the GOP. That leaves the political world wondering how he can possibly reconcile these two things when he meets with Trump tomorrow. . . .
This means that Ryan, a good man who exemplifies all of the best qualities of our political culture, can either sacrifice his principles in the name of a dubious GOP unity or stand aside and keep his honor while knowing that doing so will undermine his standing as a party leader in the short term while also doing long-term damage to his presidential hopes.
That’s a strange argument. Four years ago Ryan joined a ticket headed by the author of RomneyCare; why would one expect ideological purity from him now?
There has been an irritating tendency on the part of many Nevertrump Republicans to conflate “principle” with judgments about taste, style, personal comportment, temperament and experience. One who does make the distinction is the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol:
I have always voted for the Republican presidential candidate. From Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan (twice) and George H. W. Bush (twice) and Bob Dole, from George W. Bush (twice) to John McCain and Mitt Romney—I’ve checked the box next to those eight names on all 11 occasions I’ve had the chance. . . .
I cannot vote for Donald Trump. It’s not clear that his mixed bag of motley policies would be superior to those of his Democratic opponent. He could well pick better Supreme Court justices, which is important; but he could well pursue a less sound foreign policy, which is also important. But policy is not the issue. Character is.
Kristol acknowledges implicitly that he’s made ideological compromises all his voting life (except in 1980 and 1984) and explicitly that by his lights, Trump is different for nonideological reasons.
It’s a good bet that Kristol, who’s been talking for months about a conservative third-party bid, is well and truly Nevertrump and will sit out the election if the protest candidacy fails to launch. But our guess is that many anti-Trump conservatives can be reconciled to supporting the nominee, especially given that the alternative is not just “another four years of the Obama White House,” as Trump and Ryan put it, but turning over the presidency to the Clinton marital estate.
If the continuing Ryan-Trump negotiations yield agreement in some areas of policy—not all; they’ll surely have to agree to disagree on immigration, for instance—that would help attract those conservatives. In other words, it’s in Trump’s interests for Ryan to yield only after exacting a price.
Party unity entails winning over party members who opposed the nominee and marginalizing those who cannot be won over (such as the Democratic “PUMAs” of 2008). That’s an especially tough challenge for Republicans this year, because Trump is such an unorthodox nominee who inspires such strong negative feelings.
But Trump and Ryan may be up to it. After their meeting, Ryan spent 15 minutes or so taking questions from reporters on Capitol Hill. He reiterated the theme of the joint statement—the need for unity and for finding common ground on conservative principles. …
For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.