After Donald Trump won the nomination in May, Paul Ryan wasn't ready to support the nominee. "I'm just not ready to do that at this point," he said on CNN, "I'm not there right now."
Addressing a deeply fractured GOP from the tiny Holiday Inn in Janesville six months later, Ryan praised the president-elect, predicted "a unified Republican government," and called for "a time of redemption, not a time of recrimination."
Thus completes Ryan's transition to Trump, and thus begins his fight for job security. That's why he's painted himself as the unity candidate with the policy chops and political connections to stave off a GOP civil war.
That pitch balances precariously on a policy-paper's edge. After promising big and beautiful reforms, Trump needs an actual plan. Ryan has one. It's called the Better Way Agenda.
With a national mandate, the pressure's on the president-elect to deliver during his first 100 days. It's no wonder, Ryan stressed the need "to go big, go bold, and do things." He has a comprehensive, tailored agenda that covers everything from Obamacare to tax reform. And it's there for Trump's taking.
But there's some irony in Ryan hawking his white papers to save his speaker's gavel. He never wanted the job in the first place. Before that, he wasn't crazy about being drafted as Mitt Romney's running mate. Both times though, he took the job to bolster the party. By conventional political wisdom (admittedly a significantly inflated currency now) he's poised to do it again.
Ryan may have burnt his bridge to the speaker's balcony back in May.
The memory of Trump's supporters is as huge as their candidate's ego. Combined, they provide little room for Ryan. Disenfranchised in industrial areas and enraged online, the populist's supporters won't forget Ryan's failure to endorse. Especially after Trump declared the speaker and his agenda toxic in response.
"I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan's agenda," Trump replied back in May. "Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people."
Even if Trump does a 180, his base might reject that agenda. Trump supporters are more populist than Republican and have little respect for the GOP orthodoxies that Ryan holds dear. In short, they might enjoy watching him kiss the ring for now. It's unclear if they'll let him bang the gavel again later.
The only way Ryan keeps his job is if the House rallies to him. During the election, he worked tirelessly up and down the conference to help conservatives and establishment candidates keep their seats. That's why Ryan's so popular. He works for members across the board during general elections. And those are the members who will vote Ryan to reelection in January. If not, the remarks suggest that he'll find a leadership role elsewhere, perhaps back in the rank and file.
One thing that the GOP wunderkind didn't do was apologize. Ryan didn't backtrack his past hesitancy. At most he admitted his misinterpretation of the electorate, chalking it up to "our very messy democracy" and "sharply divided country." So call it a transformation. Don't call it a mea culpa.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.