- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Paul D. Ryan’s first stint in Washington was as a tax-cutting Jack Kemp acolyte, interning in summer 1991 for a Wisconsin senator and waiting tables at Tortilla Coast, where his bosses encouraged him to push margarita pitchers because they had the highest profit margins.

By then Donald Trump was already a well-known businessman, who that same summer came to Congress to testify on the economy, disparaging President Reagan’s 1986 tax simplification and calling for tax increases on the wealthy to bring the country out of what he declared a depression.

Now Mr. Ryan is speaker of the House, Republicans’ top elected official, and Mr. Trump is the party’s presumptive presidential nomination, having easily outdistanced 16 other candidates in a divisive three-month primary. The two men will meet Thursday, for the first time since 2012.

“We come from different wings of the party. The goal here is to unify the various wings of the party around common principles, so that we can go forward to unify it,” Mr. Ryan told reporters Wednesday.

While other party leaders are embracing Mr. Trump with varying degrees on enthusiasm, Mr. Ryan has been reluctant, saying he needs to see more commitment to conservative ideas.

The political world will dissect every smoke signal sent from Thursday’s meeting, but the mere fact that they are meeting is symbolically important.

“I think that what has happened here is that Donald Trump has become the nominee of the party by pretty much rolling over everybody in the party except the recently elected, very popular, conservative Speaker of the House,” said Patrick Griffin, a GOP strategist. “Ryan is sort of the last guy standing between Trump and at least the appearance of a unified party.”

Jimmy Kemp, president of the Jack Kemp Foundation and son of the late congressman Mr. Ryan admired, said that politics has never been short of strange bedfellows.

He recalled the reaction when Sen. Bob Dole chose his father — never known as an ally of Mr. Dole — as vice presidential nominee in 1996. Mr. Kemp said this year is even more interesting, with Mr. Trump being a newcomer to electoral politics.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that they are going to need time to get on the same page, if they are going to get on the same page, at least in the same book,” Mr. Kemp said. “This is the way life works. You often find yourself teamed up with people you don’t expect and it is part of what makes America great. I think that each of them would have a lot to learn form the other.”

Mr. Ryan’s own experience as a vice presidential nominee adds weight to Thursday’s meeting. Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential nominee, has vehemently refused to back Mr. Trump.

Even as late as Wednesday, Mr. Romney was trying to derail the wealthier businessman’s campaign, saying that Mr. Trump cannot be elected if he doesn’t release his tax returns. Mr. Trump has said he’s facing an audit, and it would be reckless to release his returns in that situation.

On the flip side, former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, a top Trump surrogate, is supporting Mr. Ryan’s tea party challenger in the primary.

For his part, Mr. Ryan has built an image as a policy wonk on Capitol Hill, where he has been the chief architect of Republican budget proposals that called for tax cuts and spending cuts, including to Social Security and Medicare. He’s comfortable in the world of concrete proposals and legislative language.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, relishes in his celebrity and shies away from specifics, instead laying out broad policy goals and leaving the details for later.

But the goals he’s set conflict with Mr. Ryan: Preventing trims to future Medicare and Social Security payments, deporting illegal immigrants and scrapping President Obama’s Pacific trade deal.

That has helped raise the stakes for Thursday’s meeting, where Mr. Ryan, the Midwesterner who went from taking taco orders from congressional bigwigs to becoming the most powerful lawmaker in Washington, will sit down with Mr. Trump, the larger than life, bombastic billionaire from the Big Apple who has emerged as the top pick of Republican primary voters who are fed up with the status quo.

“That is what makes America unique,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times. “You can come from anywhere and achieve fame, fortune and power in ways you can’t in the most of the world. So in a sense having a Ryan-Trump meeting is perfect.”

“Think of it this way: flamboyant New York businessman meets studious, hard-working, ice-fishing cheesehead,” Mr. Gingrich said.

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