Lewis Morris / May 13, 2016

The 2016 Ryan-Trump Beer Summit

Trump and Ryan get together to iron out their differences.

Thursday’s Ryan-Trump beer summit in Washington didn’t completely heal the rift between the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and the party’s leadership, but it certainly drew a lot of media attention. It also at least paved the way for a détente — even if it is only a façade. Or, in the words of Charles Krauthammer, a “sham marriage.”

Donald Trump, who used insults, bombast, poor form and just about every negative political tactic in the book to take the Republican nomination, now has to settle into general election mode. He may find the broader electorate not as susceptible to his “charms” as Republican primary voters, and despite his rhetoric, he’ll need the support of the Republican establishment if he wants to win. How so? Trump’s campaign will need data support, a solid grassroots ground game, and lots of money if he hopes to defeat the Hillary Clinton juggernaut in November.

The flip side of that coin is that this very same RNC and GOP leadership now needs Trump if they want to reclaim the White House. And they know full well how difficult it will be to follow eight years of Barack Obama with four or eight years of Hillary Clinton.

For months, Trump seemed like a joke, and throughout the debates and the early primaries, pundits on the Left and Right seemed to agree that his chances of winning the White House were like those of a snowball’s chance in … a campfire.

Well, like it or not, and a good number of Republicans don’t, Trump will almost certainly now be the standard bearer for the GOP in November. As such, his head-to-head polling numbers have improved to the point that Clinton must be getting nervous.

Trump’s trip to Washington on Thursday to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of the Republican leadership was a step toward unifying a party that Trump has thus far been intent on blowing up for his own purposes.

Ryan remains undazzled by The Donald, saying after their meeting only that he would continue to look for common ground on policy issues. In their joint statement, they promised to keep the dialogue open and find a way to overcome their differences:

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.

At this stage, that is probably all anyone could have hoped for.

As Trump begins to collect endorsements from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, others are offering only grudging support. But Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who endorsed Trump earlier this year, asserted, “Donald Trump is unifying the party already. The party is the people who vote.”

Others are motivated to support Trump by the mere thought of a Clinton presidency. “As a conservative I cannot trust Donald Trump to do the right thing,” said Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, “but I can deeply trust Hillary Clinton to do the wrong thing every time.”

Trump also met with Reince Priebus of the RNC and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of the Senate leadership, but it was the time spent with Ryan that was the principle focus of attention.

The big takeaways were that Republicans wanted Trump to tone down his negative rhetoric and spend more time focusing on the stagnant Obama economy. Whether Trump concedes to a change in tone is another matter. “You win the pennant and now you’re in the World Series — you gonna change?” he wondered. “People like the way I’m doing. … I think I have a mandate from the people.”

Indeed, don’t underestimate his support.

The lackluster economy and the growing entitlement problem can be winning issues for Republicans in the coming election. Unfortunately, Trump has been all over the map on these and other topics of concern, so he may be just as vulnerable as Clinton when it comes to debating the issues.

Trump’s erratic and outrageous behavior on the campaign trail was supposed to doom him. Instead it actually enhanced his profile and made him more popular. Whether he can tack more to the right, or even the center, remains to be seen. His unusual (and that’s a kind word) campaign style has worked well for him so far, so in some respects he’s right not to change now.

But can Trump see the wisdom of being more of a team player for the general election? Does he even want to? What will happen to the support he’s received from people who were attracted to his damn-the-torpedoes strategy when he starts working more closely with the dreaded Washington establishment?

There are still a lot of questions about what Trump, Ryan and the rest of the Republican leadership will do in the coming weeks leading up to the Cleveland convention. We must all hope that differences can be minimized, and the better characteristics of all concerned will rise to the top. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the country depends on it.

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