Donald Trump may not end up winning the presidential election, but even if he falls short in November, he’ll be able to console himself with the participation trophy that House Speaker Paul Ryan appears to be polishing for him.
Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, appeared on Face the Nation Sunday and struggled to agree with any of the Trump policies as host John Dickerson brought them up. But he was usually quick to praise the GOP nominee for at least making an effort.
For example, Dickerson asked Ryan about Trump’s recent proposal requiring businesses to offer paid maternity leave, noting that Ryan himself has characterized similar proposals as an unacceptable “unfunded mandate” on states and businesses.
“Look-- look, I think he's trying to get at an issue that we all want to get at, which is there are women in the workforce that have additional challenges,” Ryan said. “We have problems that need to be addressed. And so what I'm excited about is he's...jumping into the policy realm, offering ideas and solutions. That's the kind of debate we would want to have.”
He added, “I welcome the fact that he is offering concrete policy solutions to fix problems that we need to address in this country. And that's a great step in the right direction.”
“Even if they're ones with which you disagree?” Dickerson asked.
“Sure, no problem,” Ryan said.
Dickerson also asked Ryan to address Trump’s economic proposals from a budgetary perspective.
“Let me ask you about debt... You have worked with the Center for Responsible Budget. They've scored the Trump plan as creating $5.3 trillion dollars in increased debt,” he began.
Ryan said he didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment.
“But is Donald Trump's responsible?” Dickerson asked.
“Well, I-- I haven't looked at the details -- the -- his latest plan -- his -- you're talking about his tax plan? His latest tax plan was much closer to the one we're offering.”
“But it still has a huge deficit number. He doesn't want to touch entitlements --”
“Well -- so obviously we are offering, again, comprehensive health care and entitlement reform. We think we'll have a nominee-- we think Donald Trump will be more than willing to work with us on this. But more importantly on the tax plan you've got to get tax rates down to create more economic growth. Our plan does that. His plan is similar to ours. So I think we're all going in the right direction.”
Dickerson continued to push, eventually asking if Trump had at least some responsibility to present a plan that more or less adds up.
“Sure,” Ryan said, before effectively exempting Trump from the requirement because...well, he’s inexperienced. But at least he’s trying!
“So I think Donald Trump is new. He's a business guy running for president. So you're not going to see a conventional campaign because he is not a conventional politician. He's not even a politician.”
One of the strangest elements of the conversation was related to Trump’s belated attempt to mend fences with the African American community. Trump, with a long history of racially insensitive comments, spent the first year of his campaign avoiding largely black audiences. In recent months, he’s spent some time among carefully-curated samples of the African American community in an effort to broaden his appeal.
Ryan, sensibly, praised the idea of a presidential candidate getting out into a community that doesn’t necessarily welcome him.
“Each of us have to get better perspectives, get outside of our comfort zones, understand what other people are thinking and saying and what they see,” he said. “And then try and come up with common ground solutions and that's, to me, the kind of healing that has to occur.”
Then, things started to go off the rails.
“I think the effort is very important. Half of it is just showing up. Showing up and trying and learning and listening.”
Trump, of course, has been “showing up” at events packed with people who were guaranteed to support him. So the value of the listening at those events is questionable.
Dickerson also asked Ryan to address Trump’s recent claim that, "Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before ever, ever, ever. You take a look at the inner-cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They're worse, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner-cities.”
“I don't see it that way,” Ryan said. “That's not how I would describe it. But I'm glad he's actually going into these communities and trying. I think it's important to show up. And I think it's important to show up and listen.”
He again praised Trump for even trying. “I am pleased that he's making the effort. Not every person running for president does that. This is something that Republicans need to do more of. More of us need to go in communities where we don't expect to get a single vote. But we hope to get a perspective so that we can come up with solutions.”
Actually, though, pretty much everybody running for president at least makes an attempt to speak to the African American community. And they start a little earlier than Trump did. But Ryan seemed intent on giving Trump credit for it anyway.
Ironically, Dickerson also asked Ryan to give his party’s nominee some debate-prep advice.
“Over prepare,” he said. “Look, Hillary Clinton's been doing this most of her life. She is the consummate pro. This is new for Donald. So I think he should obviously over prepare for it. And the, the thing I believe, obviously I prepared for these myself. You have to offer the country a vision, go on offense, prosecute your case, hold your opponent accountable. But then, but then show the country the direction you want to go and, and prepare, prepare, prepare. And I hope he's doing that.”
But he’s not. So, best to keep polishing that participation trophy.