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Paul Ryan inches yet further toward outright endorsing Trump

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Cal
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Since Paul Ryan came out and said he wasn't yet "ready" to endorse Donald Trump last week, the political world has been waiting to see if — or, perhaps, when — the GOP Speaker of the House would endorse his party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Well, the two finally met in Washington, DC Thursday morning — and while Ryan didn't outright say the words "I endorse Donald Trump" afterward, he made it pretty clear that he's headed there eventually. Here's the joint statement he released with Trump:

Note that the statement:

  • Condemns President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and says the country "cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents"
  • Mentions the words "unite," "unify," and "unification"
  • And says that Trump and Ryan have "few differences"

Also, afterward, Ryan said that Trump is "a very warm and genuine person."

All this will probably sound pretty close to an endorsement to most people, but Ryan has still refrained from speaking those exact words. The statement goes on to say that Ryan and Trump would be having "additional discussions" and stresses that this was only their "first meeting."

Yet the question doesn't really appear to be whether Ryan will endorse Trump — it's what sorts of concessions Ryan is looking for, and can potentially win, from Trump in exchange for his endorsement. And the answer to that is still unclear.

Can Ryan move Trump on anything?

Last week, Ryan repeatedly stressed two things that he thought Trump needed to do: back a conservative agenda, and adopt a message that can appeal to all Americans.

I read these remarks as a call for Trump to move closer to conservative orthodoxy on economic issues — cutting spending and taxes, reforming entitlements, and expanding trade — while toning down the offensive rhetoric, particularly toward immigrants.

But Trump quickly responded by saying that he himself was "not yet ready to support Speaker Ryan's agenda." But as Matt Yglesias argued, Ryan doesn't appear to have a ton of leverage here, since his own House majority's fortunes may well rise and fall based on Trump's performance.

Now, these new post-meeting tweets from Byron York, a reporter at the Washington Examiner who's well-sourced in conservative circles, read to me as if Ryan doesn't in fact expect Trump to make huge policy concessions, and is instead mainly hoping that Trump will tone down his offensive rhetoric:

Note that, per York, "Ryan understands" that he and Trump "won't agree on many things," but that he wants so strengthen GOP principles and the party's "brand," and make the campaign "more dignified."

All this makes me suspect that some sort of cosmetic, face-saving compromise will at some point be reached, without many real concessions on Trump's part. And frequent Trump critic Bill Kristol has similar suspicions.

But we'll probably see soon enough just how good a poker player Ryan is.