Paul Ryan has been deliberately coy lately when it comes to Donald Trump. In an interview last week, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he was not ready to support the presumptive nominee. He preferred to keep quiet while watching to see if Trump could “unify” the party. But if history is any guide, Ryan is going to have to say something about Trump if and when he presides over the July GOP convention as its chairman—something nice.
The top Republican in the House of Representatives, whether he’s the speaker or the minority leader, typically steers the GOP convention. During the gatherings of the last 20-odd years, the leader has typically followed the same procedure: He—and it’s always been a “he”—gavels in the meeting, makes introductions, and gives remarks, often about the party’s future, its ideals, and how the nominee will lead Republicans to victory in the November election. In the best of circumstances, a chairman and a nominee would be kindred spirits, who share no fractured history. But that’s not happening in 2016. The GOP is bitterly divided into at least three camps: pro-Trump, anti-Trump, and lukewarm-on-Trump. Ryan hasn’t said he would step down as chairman if he joins the anti-Trump faction. But on Monday, he told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he would abdicate the position if Trump asked him to. Ryan’s decision on how to play the convention—not to mention whether to stay on as chairman—could affect whether the party comes together, or whether it fractures even more deeply into November.