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How Paul Ryan Stumped Trump

House Speaker Paul Ryan Addresses Media Following House Republican ConferenceHouse Speaker Paul Ryan Addresses Media Following House Republican Conference
House Speaker Paul RyanBloomberg via Getty Images

Who’s got more power at this moment, Donald Trump or Paul Ryan? To put it another way, which one needs the other one more? We’re watching a fascinating exercise in the use of power, which will continue on Thursday morning when the two men meet in Washington.

It began last week when Ryan said he wasn’t ready to support Trump – a startling event considering that Ryan had previously pledged to support the eventual Republican nominee, whoever he was. He didn’t violate his pledge, since Trump isn’t yet the nominee, but he rocked Trump back on his heels, effectively reminding him that Ryan’s support would be extremely valuable.

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Trump’s response, that he wasn’t ready to accept Ryan’s views, sounded like a childish playground taunt. When Trump later tried to establish dominance by saying he might replace Ryan as convention chairman, Ryan immediately called his bluff and showed his self-confidence by saying he would certainly step down from the post if Trump asked him to.

The most likely political reality is that Trump badly needs Ryan’s endorsement in order to gain stature with conservatives, whose support he must have and mostly doesn’t have. Ryan, by contrast, doesn’t need and probably doesn’t want Trump’s support in boosting Republican candidates for the House. That is, Trump needs Ryan more than Ryan needs Trump. Just as significant, that’s the way it looks to outsiders, if only because Ryan has played his hand better. And as Henry Kissinger wrote, “In Washington … the appearance of power is therefore almost as important as the reality of it. In fact, the appearance is frequently its essential reality.”