The man famous for writing the “Art of the Deal” is currently in what may be the most fascinating and relatively public political deal-making process in American history. Likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan had the first of what they promise to be multiple meetings today as we approach the two-month mark before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Both men probably have a decent-sized list of things they want from this possible deal, but they can be summarized in just two sentences:
Donald Trump wants Paul Ryan’s endorsement and the Republican National Committee’s campaign money.
Paul Ryan wants Donald Trump to cut down on the crazy.
Trump’s demands are self-explanatory. But it’s worth clarifying that Trump knows he cannot win the election in November without more of the GOP base voting for him and more traditional Republican donors supporting him. So Trump will spend the next few weeks working hard to gain and solidify that support.
The best way for Trump to do that jumped right out at the top of the joint statement he and Paul Ryan issued after their meeting: Bash Hillary Clinton. Beating Clinton was the first thing mentioned in that statement because that’s the cause most Republicans want to rally around. The more Trump uses his formidable social media power to focus on Clinton alone, the more he will get reluctant Republicans to vote for him and give him money. That’s especially true if those attacks start to make a difference in the polls.
Despite the fact that Trump wasted much of the last few days bashing Senator Elizabeth Warren and other people not named “Hillary” on his Twitter feed, the odds of Trump focusing more on his actual electoral opponent seem pretty good.
Ryan’s main demand is also self-explanatory, but it’s more of a stretch to hope that Trump will tamp down on the rhetoric that indeed sounds crazy to movement conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike. The two main reasons why it’s a stretch is because 1) Trump’s political brand relies on delivering at least some crazy with some regularity. It was his unique and coarse bombast that helped set him apart when 17 people were running for the GOP nomination. He’s not going to stop now. 2) He’s also not going to stop spewing ideas that many conservatives find crazy because the conservative base alone won’t be even close enough for him to win the election. Heck, even moderate Republican voters won’t be enough for him to win the election.
So when Trump makes statements supporting the idea of massive tariffs, or restricting all Muslim entry into the country, or saying the rich should pay more in taxes, he isn’t going for the base of the Republican or Democratic parties. He’s going for a new coalition of voters, especially those who may not have voted at all in the past.
That’s where this deal-making process is going to get really interesting for the GOP leadership: How far off the conservative talking points of the Reagan era will Ryan and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus be able to stomach seeing Trump go before they pull the plug on any alliance? That obviously depends on what Trump says next, but it will also rely on the polls. Make no mistake, Thursday’s collegial meeting between Trump and Ryan had a lot to do with the fact that Trump is doing better in the national polls vs. Clinton right now. The “crazy” tolerance level is in positive correlation to Trump’s numbers vs. Hillary Clinton, period.
By contrast, is there anything Ryan and the establishment GOP could do to make Trump decide this whole deal isn’t worth it? It’s possible that could happen if the RNC tries to dictate to Trump who he should choose as his running mate or what precisely he should say at the convention. But like the polls are the meter to judge Ryan’s level of support for Trump, money is the meter for Trump’s potential willingness to reduce the crazy and get more in line with the RNC. As his campaign faces a national election where his public visibility advantage will be mitigated considerably because of equal time rules and the generally pro-Hillary establishment media, it’s going to become increasingly clear that Trump needs more and more money to fight the Clinton machine.
So Trump wants the money that Ryan can go a long way to getting for him. What does Trump have that Ryan needs? Trump has the Republican voters, or at least enough of them to destroy the party if he runs a campaign completely without RNC support and goes down in flames in a historic general election loss that would also bring severe GOP losses in the House and the Senate.
Both men in this deal have carrots and sticks to offer the other side. If they both get enough of what they want, Trump and the GOP could both be winners. But achieving that balance in what’s already been a wild and unpredictable election will not be easy.
Who’s more likely to come out ahead? Probably Trump. He’s got the nomination sewn up and based on what we saw today the RNC is not anywhere close to seriously considering running some kind of third candidate in November.
And at some point, Trump is likely to cause a GOP feeding frenzy by drawing serious blood in his verbal clashes with Clinton. The crazy is not going to go away, but it will be more clearly aimed at the one person establishment Republicans have hated for the longest time. But Ryan will not be a total loser because Trump still needs the GOP establishment money. So expect more clarity and Republican-style orthodoxy from Trump on issues like taxes, defense, and foreign policy.
Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of “Power Lunch.” Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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