Sen. John Barrasso had a really awkward job at the Republican National Convention.
The Wyoming Republican, who headed the GOP’s platform-writing panel, took the stage Monday right after an ugly fight between pro- and anti-Donald Trump factions over convention rules, and did his best to get past it.
“Who’s proud to be an American?” he said, and praised the work of the platform’s authors. “What they achieved can be summarized simply. We believe the United States of America is unlike any nation on earth. We believe America is exceptional.”
But really, it can’t be summarized as simply as Barrasso claimed.
The platform approved Monday is a mishmash of hard-right provisions combined with a few Trump-backed ruptures with GOP orthodoxy on trade and banking rules.
Yes, yes, we know. Party platforms don’t really matter, and they’re not binding.
But this year, it’s a symbol of the fraught relationship between two power centers in GOP politics: Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Ryan has reluctantly accepted Trump, but he kept plenty of political daylight between them as the convention began Monday.
The White House nominee is a conservative, Ryan allowed in remarks at a Wall Street Journal lunch in Cleveland, adding: “He’s not my kind of conservative, but I come from a different part and wing of the party.”
Ryan has been laboring to drum up attention for the House GOP’s policy agenda.
Trump is much less interested in details, but he has broadly split with his party on some stances, and has horrified GOP officials with some of his own ideas (notably the proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S.).
Some portions of the platform reflect the conservatism of Ryan and more generally the pillars of the conservative movement.
“Conservative leaders believe this is the most conservative platform we’ve ever had,” said GOP political consultant Matt Mackowiak.
On social issues, the platform is firmly to the right. It attacks the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage nationwide, while calling on states to offer the Bible in literature classes.
And social conservatives also got what they wanted, with lengthy sections on fighting abortion rights on several fronts; language attacking the Obama administration’s policies on restroom choice for transgender people; and more.
Trump, even on issues where he now says he agrees with social conservatives, has not made antigay and antiabortion policy a major focus of his campaign.
While Trump’s policy leanings are often hard to pin down, he has rejected calls by congressional Republicans to pare back Social Security and Medicare.
On Social Security, the platform appears to largely punt. While rejecting the idea that it’s a “third rail” of American politics and noting that “we accept the responsibility to preserve and modernize” it, the document offers little by way of specifics.
“Current retirees and those close to retirement can be assured of their benefits,” it states. “Of the many reforms being proposed, all options should be considered to preserve Social Security.”
Still, it may leave room for embracing the kind of overhauls that Trump has not proposed, indicating support for “the power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system.”
When it comes to Medicare, the platform nods toward House Republicans’ recent proposal, embracing a “premium support” program that would allow private insurance companies into the system while shielding older recipients from disruptions.
Trump has criticized his fellow Republicans’ entitlement-reform plans before, particularly Ryan’s. At a Phoenix rally last month, Trump put his position simply: “We’re going to save your Social Security without killing it like so many people want to do, and your Medicare.”
The section on criminal-justice reform, an increasing focus for Ryan, goes further than the 2012 platform, notably by voicing at least limited support for revisiting the practice of mandatory-minimum sentences.
“Modifications to it should be targeted toward particular categories, especially nonviolent offenders and persons with drug, alcohol, or mental health issues, and should require disclosure by the courts of any judicial departure from the state’s sentencing requirements,” it states.
But elsewhere, there’s a nod to Trump—who opposes NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership—in the platform’s retreat from full-throated backing for free-trade deals.
While it avoids mentioning NAFTA or the proposed TPP by name, it states: “We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first.”
And while Trump’s efforts to directly shape the document appear to be limited (Barrasso told the Washington Examiner that Trump “has really not tried to influence the direction” of it), it nonetheless bears his clear stamp in other areas too.
On immigration, where Trump has been extremely hawkish and directly attacked Mexicans, it strongly endorses building a border wall.
And in a surprise move Monday, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort revealed that the platform also called for reinstating Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law repealed under President Bill Clinton that imposed a firewall between commercial and investment banking.
It could be a move by Trump to appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders, who campaigned aggressively against Wall Street and wants to revive Glass-Steagall, and outflank Hillary Clinton, whose own plans to increase financial regulation don’t include that idea.
But at the same time, it’s another rupture with Capitol Hill Republicans, who are generally loath to adding new regulations. Ryan’s aides did not immediately respond to a question about the provision.
For one major conservative group, the platform is a mixed bag.
Jason Pye of FreedomWorks lamented the GOP’s “Trump-ification” on trade.
“Republicans have always been very good on trade, and it’s really frustrating to see those winds shift a little bit to being sort of hostile to trade—maybe not completely against it, but hostile for sure,” said Pye, the group’s communications director.
Still, the criminal-justice language gives him reason to smile. The party’s formal embrace comes just a few days after Ryan pledged, in an interview on NPR, to try and bring criminal-justice-reform legislation to the floor in September.
Trump, meanwhile, has recently boasted of being a “law and order” candidate, and Manafort has explicitly compared Trump’s message at this convention to that of Richard Nixon in 1968 on that front.
Some lawmakers backing a stalled, bipartisan Senate bill that would ease harsh mandatory-minimum sentences in some cases and boost anti-recidivism efforts have been hoping that House action could create momentum. For Pye, the language is one more tool against a group of conservatives like Sen. Tom Cotton who oppose the bill.
“For us to have this kind of language in the platform is a big deal. It is a victory over someone like him,” Pye said.