WASHINGTON—Members of Congress fought their way past a bag-piper, a horn-player, and a group of protesters to reach the building where the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump held a highly anticipated meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. The raucous scene outside Republican National Committee headquarters that featured an impersonator wearing a giant Donald Trump head Thursday mirrored the unpredictable presidential election campaign that has fractured the identity of the party.
Dennis Rodriguez led a group of undocumented immigrants called United We Dream which was holding a mock funeral for the Republican Party. He said the meeting between Ryan and Trump changed nothing about the Republican Party’s attitude on the main issues.
“The Republican party has always been this way,” said Rodriguez on Trump’s views. “Now they are finally showing their true colors.”
— Katherine Gypson (@kgyp) May 12, 2016
— KATHERINE GYPSON (@KGYP) MAY 12, 2016
Trump has won nearly 11 million votes from Republicans in the state-by-state nominating contests for his call to deport 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, a vow to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out more migrants, and a proposal to temporarily stop Muslims from entering the U.S.
For the horde of national and international reporters waiting outside Thursday’s meeting, the wait was long and substance limited.
Trump refrained from his usual propensity for making comments to the media, eluding the cameras when he departed after the meeting. He issued a joint statement with Ryan shortly afterwards calling their first meeting “a positive step towards unification.”
House Republicans hedged their bets in the days leading up the Trump-Ryan meeting, some offering tepid endorsements of “supporting their party’s nominee” and talk of how Trump’s commanding lead in the Republican primary had caught them by surprise.
Rep. Robert J. Dold, a Republican from Illinois told reporters he wants to see Trump meet with the full conference of House Republicans to answer questions about his policy views and his vision for the Republican Party.
While Trump may be seeking the endorsement of some of the Capitol Hill Republicans, he should be worried about the approval of voters across the country, said political analyst Stu Rothenberg.
“I don’t think it’s likely that Donald Trump can visit with every Republican who is unhappy with what Donald Trump said and the way he said it,” he said.
Rothenberg said the meeting did not fundamentally change the 2016 race.
“Trump still has a lot of work to do in swing states and states he thinks he can carry, and he starts off behind,” he said.
Ryan, who said last week that he was “just not ready” to endorse Trump’s campaign, again did not fully embrace his candidacy. But Ryan declared that he was “very encouraged” about unifying with Trump.
“I do believe we are planting the seeds to get ourselves unified,” Ryan said. “But this is a process. It takes time. It’s critical that we don’t fake unification.”
Ryan is expected to eventually come around to support his party’s nominee. Anything less would be an unprecedented move in an election season that has already held numerous surprises.
He recognized as much in his joint statement with Trump, writing “The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall.”
But quietly and behind closed doors, Republicans will have to decide if it is worthwhile to show enthusiastic support for a nominee who could come out any moment with a surprising – and possibly indefensible – statement.
“It’s not simply a case of do I endorse or do I not endorse,” said Rothenberg, “It’s done I go out there enthusiastically and support him.”
Step toward party unity
In that sense, the Trump-Ryan meeting did little to change the values the two men said they would need to agree upon for party unity.
The assembled media packed up and headed home without a soundbite from Trump and the protestors were still left wondering who ultimately leads the Republican Party they oppose.