With Donald Trump’s shocking upset to win the presidency, House Republicans are now pondering a crucial question: Will he resolve his grudge with Speaker Paul Ryan?
Republicans kept a majority in the House with a sizeable enough margin that Ryan could easily be reelected speaker under normal circumstances. But the circumstances in the run-up to this election have been anything but normal.
Having captured the Republican base in deep-red districts around the country, Trump’s posture towards the speaker he has called weak and ineffective will be critical in the coming days and months, and even House Republicans loyal to the speaker concede that Ryan’s fate is in Trump’s unpredictable hands.
“Trump blesses Paul, all is good. Trump decides to fight, it will be a problem,” said one Ryan-friendly House Republican, speaking anonymously to discuss leadership deliberations. “He will have a lot of influence over what happens next in the House. Hard to guess what he’ll do.”
House Republicans who have supported Ryan were hoping late Tuesday night that Trump, who spent a good deal of his campaign settling scores, would let this one go. Already, speculation had been building that if Trump lost, he would train his ire on Ryan to deflect from his own failure, potentially costing Ryan the speakership. Now, those Republicans are hoping that even if Trump wouldn’t have been gracious in defeat, he will be gracious in victory.
“A Trump win is good for [Ryan] because they won’t need a scapegoat,” said another House Republican. “Deep down Trump knows he needs Ryan to get the legislation done.”
Of course, that assumes Trump’s idea of governance jibes with Ryan’s, and on critical points of Trump’s campaign he has diverged with the speaker and other House Republicans. Ryan criticized Trump for linchpin policies of his campaign, such as banning Muslims from entering the United States. Trump, conversely, has been steadfastly against trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Ryan has supported.
Add to that the volatility of the House Freedom Caucus, and Ryan’s chances for keeping the gavel could be slim. As results were trickling in, at least one Trump ally was already going after Ryan. Fox News host Sean Hannity predicted on the air Tuesday evening that Ryan would not be speaker in January. Hannity had previously said a Freedom Caucus member should run.
While it remains unlikely that most of the House Republican Conference would vote for a Freedom Caucus member for speaker, it also is unlikely that members from districts that heavily voted for Trump would risk their own careers defending Ryan, if indeed Trump demands his ouster.
Ryan and Trump were set to campaign together in Wisconsin on Sunday, but Trump canceled his appearance. Instead, Ryan campaigned with Pence and instead of his tepid posture toward Trump, Ryan gave his most strident endorsement yet of the GOP candidate.
“Let me tell you this: When Donald Trump says that he wants a special session to repeal and replace Obamacare, let me tell you that as speaker of the House, we are ready, we are willing, and we are ready and we have a plan to do that,” Ryan said.
With Wisconsin key to propelling Trump to victory, Ryan’s late-hour stumping could help heal the wound. Ryan called Trump on Tuesday night and the two had a “good conversation,” according to Ryan aide AshLee Strong. Ryan congratulated Trump and spoke to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
On the other hand, Ryan gave a short acceptance speech Tuesday night after winning reelection to his Wisconsin congressional district but before Trump had been declared the winner. And as Ryan had been earlier in the election, he shied away from Trump, declining even to mention his name.
Now, House Republicans are hoping that the two men can not only speak each other’s names with respect, but look each other in the eye and come to an agreement.
“Trump should say he wants Ryan as speaker. That is the best-case scenario for us all to move forward,” said a third House Republican. “Trump will step up and recognize that Paul is the best person and put the family fighting behind us. I hope.”