It’s the Constitution.
Three times, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., explained Thursday on CNN why he cannot support the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. It came down to Trump’s expansive views of presidential power.
Seen in light of previous statements by Ryan, it’s clear that the speaker’s biggest concern is that Trump does not share his belief that the presidency has become too powerful and needs to be reined in by Congress.
But there were also hints in Ryan’s comments to Jake Tapper that he suspects Trump may not understand or appreciate the balance of power between the president and Congress as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.
“I think conservatives want to know, does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?” Ryan said. “There are a lot of questions that conservatives, I think, are going to want answers to, myself included.”
Democrats accused George W. Bush of expanding the powers of the presidency to a dangerous degree, and Republicans like Ryan have said the same about President Obama. But, lately, Ryan has also blamed Republican presidents who preceded Obama for replacing the lawmaking authority of Congress with executive orders and federal agency rule making.
While Ryan also said that he wants to see Trump adopt a more hopeful, positive message that can attract a broader set of voters, he insisted that he was not calling on Trump to renounce any of his policy positions. Ryan, however, has forcefully criticized Trump over his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, for his slowness to repudiate the support of white supremacists, for inciting violence against protesters at Trump rallies, and for his plan to deport all undocumented immigrants.
“Doesn’t he completely have to say that he doesn’t support the deportation of 12 million undocumented immigrants because you disagree with that?” Tapper asked Ryan.
“No, no, I’m not saying that at all,” Ryan said. “I’m not saying he’s got to support my policies … He won fair and square on his policies. And, yes, he comes from a different wing of the party than the one I do.”
Ryan made clear that while he disagrees with Trump on many things, these are not the issues that make him unable to support Trump.
“Of course, you’re going to have policy disagreements. You always have policy disagreements. Heck, Mitt Romney and I had policy disagreements. So that’s just natural, and it’s too much to ask someone to change their policy views that they were duly elected on, on some policy dispute,” Ryan said. “But are we putting our policies based upon the principles that all conservative and all Republicans share? You know, limited government, the Constitution, the right role for the executive?”
Ryan said he wants to know whether Trump “will advance our appreciation for limited government, for the Constitution, for the proper role of the executive, for the principles that not only built our party, but built this country.”
“And, yes, looking back on the primary campaign, I think there are instances and episodes that question that,” Ryan said.
In fact, Trump’s conduct over the past year has raised questions about his understanding of and commitment to basic constitutional bedrock principles, such as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the checks and balances at the heart of America’s democratic republic. He has promised to change the law to make it easier to sue journalists who say things he doesn’t like, publicly threatened retaliation against political opponents — including Ryan himself — and railed against the Republican nominating rules, which like the American constitutional system combine direct and indirect forms of democracy (and which, in fact, have helped him ).
Trump has vowed to penalize businesses that make decisions he doesn’t like, such as moving jobs to other countries. Carrying out his deportation proposal would dramatically increase the size of government and involve a major expansion of its police powers.
Ryan, meanwhile, has been foreshadowing a five-point agenda he plans to unveil before the Republican convention in July as a platform for Republican candidates for the House and Senate to run on. One of the five planks, he said recently, is to “restore the Constitution and Article 1 in the Constitution.”
“What that means is the laws we live under should be written by ‘we,’ through our elected representatives. Right now we don’t really have that,” Ryan said. “We’ve got this fourth branch of government — unelected bureaucrats — writing our rules, writing our regulations that govern our society, that determine how our businesses run, how our schools work. It determines almost everything we do.”
Ryan blames both Democratic and Republican presidents for expanding the unchecked power of the executive branch and said he has “lots of ideas” for how to reverse that trend. He has not yet set out specific proposals, though his current showdown with Trump may force him to do so sooner than he planned.
Ryan had already spoken with Trump to brief him on his five-point platform and has said publicly that Trump was amenable to it.
“I said, here is what we’re doing, here’s where we’re going. Here’s why we’re doing it. We decided this last year before the presidential election even got started. And, yes, we had a pleasant conversation,” Ryan said on April 27 on CNN.
But after Ryan’s CNN interview, Trump specifically said he did not support Ryan’s agenda.
“I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda. Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement,” Trump said.