Donald Trump grudgingly agreed on Friday to meet with house speaker Paul Ryan to work out their differences in the midst of an extraordinary display of Republican vs. Republican strife. But he said he had “no idea” if they would patch things up and it didn’t really matter that much when compared to all the votes he’d won in this year’s primary elections.
“The thing that matters most are the millions of people that have come out to vote for me and give me a landslide victory in almost every state,” Trump said moments after Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking Republican officeholder, announced their planned meeting.
Ryan said that the meeting would occur next Thursday and that Trump also would meet with other House GOP leaders. Discussions will centre on “the kind of Republican principles and ideas that can win the support of the American people this November,” Ryan said.
The unlikely back-and-forth came a day after Ryan injected new uncertainty into the turbulent presidential contest by refusing, for now, to endorse Trump. Aides said that, far from seeking to helm an anti-Trump movement, Ryan hopes to exert a positive influence for the general election campaign after a nominating contest that has alienated women, minorities and other voter groups.
Yet Trump’s reaction on Friday made it unclear what impact Ryan could have on the bombastic billionaire.
“With millions of people coming into the party, obviously I’m saying the right thing,” Trump said on Fox News Channel. “I mean, he talks about unity, but what is this?”
So next week’s meeting could prove the beginning of a healing process in the GOP or another outlandish episode in an election season full of them. “This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show,” President Barack Obama said on Friday when asked about Trump’s ascension.
Yet just days after Trump essentially clinched the GOP presidential nomination with a win in Indiana’s primary, Ryan’s surprise decision to withhold his support dashed any hopes that the party could turn immediately from the brutal infighting of the primaries toward the November election.
Ryan wasn’t alone. Two unsuccessful White House candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, issued statements saying they couldn’t support Trump, with Graham saying he is not “a reliable Republican conservative.” Trump responded to Graham by mocking his poor showing in the presidential race and declaring: “Like the voters who rejected him, so will I!”
As the reality of those divisions sank in Friday, some Republicans were not shy about expressing their displeasure with Ryan. The telegenic Wisconsin Republican served as his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, was drafted to the high-profile role of House speaker last fall and is seen as having designs on the 2020 presidential nomination himself.
“Yesterday’s statement emboldens others to be equally publicly difficult. And that runs the risk of creating a Goldwater kind of moment where the party really does split,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Associated Press, referring to the 1964 Republican presidential nominee whose candidacy divided the GOP and was followed by a big Democratic victory.
“I don’t necessarily know that that’s his role, to be a sticking point for the Republican nominee,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, one of a growing number of Trump supporters in the House. Added Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania: “The voters of our party have spoken loud and clear, and it’s their voice that matters.”
Trump has criticized Ryan in the past and renewed his attacks Friday by arguing that Ryan and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “lost a race that should have been won” in 2012. Trump and Ryan also have disagreements on policy, from immigration to Social Security to trade.
In his latest surprising breach of orthodoxy on Friday Trump questioned whether the U.S. government would make good on its commitment to fully honor Treasury notes, suggesting he might try to get a better deal.
It all comes at a moment when Trump needs to be reaching out to the women, minorities and others who will be crucial for him to triumph in November over Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. Trump made what he appeared to believe was an overture in that direction Thursday by tweeting a photo of himself eating a taco bowl in celebration of Cinco de Mayo and declaring his love for Hispanics.
The gesture landed with a thud, and many Latino leaders reacted negatively, although Trump insisted Friday that “People loved it.”
Underscoring the split in the party, Ryan’s defenders Friday came from the ranks of the establishment.
“This is what leadership is,” said former Republican National Committee chief of staff Mike Shields, who now heads a super PAC dedicated to helping House Republicans. He added that Ryan’s move gives vulnerable Republicans badly needed cover as they contemplate Trump’s impact on their elections this fall.
Ryan himself said in his initial comments on CNN that he hopes to be able to come around to supporting Trump. He’s just not there yet.
“You have to unify all wings of the Republican Party in a conservative movement,” he said. “And we’ve got a ways to go from here to there.”