Even as Ryan has chastised Trump’s tone, Trump has pulled his punches with the House speaker. He’s said, on occasion, that he’s more conservative than Ryan, but usually adds that he’s eager to work alongside the man who has, remarkably, united his rambunctious conference in a time of GOP divisions.
Yet on Tuesday, Trump is using Ryan’s hometown of Janesville to kick off his Wisconsin campaign. Even on a day roiled by controversy, with his campaign manager facing criminal charges and Trump himself accused of peddling dirt on a rival candidate, it’s a move filled with political symbolism.
It’s also a sign that Trump intends to mow right through the Republican establishment, or what’s left of it after Trump’s early romps through the voting calendar. Hours before Trump arrived in the state, Gov. Scott Walker – a long-ago presidential front-runner – placed his support behind Trump’s main rival, Ted Cruz.
Walker was among the first to comprehend and acknowledge the challenge posed by Trump. When he left the race six months ago, he called on others to join him “so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner.”
Wisconsin’s primary carries enormous importance. It’s timing – an island on the calendar, with two full weeks on either side of it before and after other major voting – positions it as the place where anti-Trump forces either knock the front-runner off his stride, or where Trump can emerge harder to beat than ever.
In addition to Ryan and Walker, Wisconsin is the home state of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Priebus and Ryan – who will be serving in the normally ceremonial role of convention chairman – will play outsized roles in a potential contested convention.
Trump has gotten far enough with his campaign where he could make a turn toward an embrace of the establishment. Indeed, he’s called on the establishment to embrace the movement he has helped along.
But the trip to Janesville makes clear that Trump isn’t about to reposition himself, even if that means clashing with the man who, for now, is the most powerful Republican-elected official in the country.