Why Paul Ryan Endorsed Donald Trump

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has endorsed Donald Trump for president after saying the pair have "got work to do" before Ryan could back him. Gary Cameron/Reuters

Paul Ryan's 15 minutes of ambivalence are over.

The Speaker of the House announced on Thursday that he was endorsing Donald Trump for president.

"I'll be voting for him this fall," Ryan said in an op-ed for his hometown paper. The somewhat tepid, meandering piece acknowledged differences between the two leaders of the Republican Party but allowed that Trump would facilitate passage of Ryan's agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.

"To enact these ideas we need a Republican president willing to sign them into law," Ryan wrote. The Speaker also said he was simpatico with Trump on Supreme Court nominees.

All of this means the #NeverTrump movement is evaporating. Mitt Romney, Ryan's 2012 running mate, remains one of a handful of Republican current and former officeholders vowing never to support the brash New Yorker. Republicans are flocking to Trump, and Ryan's words will only speed the process.

Why did Ryan do it? Taking Ryan at face value, he is right that Trump would sign much of the House agenda that will be rolled out this spring and summer and Hillary Clinton would not. As for immigration, entitlement reform, and other issues, Ryan acknowledged that differences remain, and that the two men will have to hash them out. "It's no secret that he and I have our differences," wrote Ryan. "And when I feel the need to, I'll speak my mind." Although presumably this won't apply if Speaker Ryan is seated behind President Trump at the State of the Union address.

Ryan's op-ed was so carefully parsed that his office tweeted out that it was, in fact, an endorsement. This is necessary because some Republicans, trying to have it both ways, have drawn a somewhat absurd distinction between voting for Trump and endorsing him. Despite his careful language, Ryan is all in.

But the real issue is that there's not much Ryan could have done. If House Republicans were going to get on the Trump Train, he couldn't be totally out of sync with them and the rest of the party—not if he wanted to continue his Speakership. Failure to back Trump would surely have led to a challenge, especially if Trump wins this fall. Has Trump ever forgotten a slight?

So Ryan came up with what's close to a middle ground, "Yes, but..."

It's not the Churchillian stand of his buddy Mitt. But then again Romney is out of office and has the luxury of being defiant and an outlier.

The Trump endorsement is a huge step for Ryan who, as a young man from Wisconsin, worked in the congressional office of the late Rep. Jack Kemp of New York. Kemp went on to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under George H.W. Bush and was . Kemp the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee 16 years before Ryan had that honor. Kemp was a huge advocate of free trade, tax cuts and a conservative agenda to help the poor. A former NFL player, Kemp was a relentless advocate for enterprise zones, which offered tax relief to poor communities. He had an easy comfort with African-Americans, perhaps born of his football years, something not always associated with the GOP. Ryan has tried to emulate his mentor. He uses the word "optimistic" with the same frequency that Kemp did. And like Kemp, who was an architect of Reagan-era, supply side, tax cuts, Ryan believes in free markets and the power of policy to unleash them.

Now he's chained to another New Yorker and not one he particularly likes. Trump is the anti-Kemp, having questioned whether the President of the United States is a Kenyan impostor, decried Mexicans as "rapists," and proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. Protectionism, a Big Wall, a religious test for immigrants and travelers--none of this is the small government, big hearted vision of Kemp and Ryan. Trump is opposed to any cuts in entitlements, something news reports said he emphasized in a face-to-face meeting with Ryan at the Republican Party's headquarters in Washington earlier this Spring.  Ryan has not wavered in his support for international accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Trump categorically, reflexively opposes them.

But the biggest difference between Ryan and Trump may be tempermental. Ryan is a self-styled policy wonk who believes in details, in the minutiae as well as the broad strokes of policy. One may disagree with Ryan but no one has ever questioned his command of the facts.

Trump as we know is not someone who, let's say, sweats the details. He's vowed to make a deal with Russia, whatever that is. He's said he'll end the drought in California, by what means he hasn't said. You get the sense that Trump has no interest in the parts of the president's job that Ryan loves--making policy.

Leave aside all the other differences. (Ryan  is a small-town family man, Trump not so much. Ryan is an exercise fanatic. Trump says he doesn't bother. ) Can they get along for the next few months? Probably. But each time Trump says something wild, reporters are going to ask Ryan for a comment. And unlike Thursday's endorsement, the speaker won't have time to craft a careful answer about how he feels.