Donald Trump Is Not Paul Ryan’s Only Roadblock

Democrats thought they won a clarifying election in 2012, when Mr. Obama overcame a robust challenge from Mitt Romney and his running mate — Mr. Ryan. But as he seeks another try at clarity, Mr. Ryan faces major challenges within his party.

Donald J. Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, has not embraced Mr. Ryan’s vision. While Mr. Trump proposes deep tax cuts, his economic agenda reflects his opposition to recent international trade agreements.

Mr. Trump denounces the Obama-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Mr. Ryan has helped usher toward approval, as “horrible.”

“We’re in a global economy whether we like it or not,” Mr. Ryan said. He held out the possibility of bridging their differences by noting Mr. Trump’s stated desire for “good trade deals.”

Their differences on Social Security and Medicare pose bigger challenges. Mr. Trump flatly rejects changes in benefits that Mr. Ryan considers vital to curbing deficits and debt.

“Look, not all Republicans agree on everything,” Mr. Ryan said. But this is no ordinary disagreement. White House leadership represents an indispensable ingredient for revamping vast benefit programs. A President Trump could place Mr. Ryan’s objective out of reach.

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Mr. Trump hasn’t yet vanquished Stop Trump efforts by mainstream Republicans who loathe his coarseness, divisive rhetoric and cloudy electoral prospects.

Mr. Ryan’s predecessor, John A. Boehner, talks of tapping the current speaker for the nomination should Mr. Trump fail to secure a first-ballot victory at the Republican convention this summer.


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But blocking Mr. Trump by pushing through someone else — “I’m not running for president,” Mr. Ryan insisted — would create its own problem. Blue-collar Republicans are flocking to Mr. Trump’s candidacy out of frustration with the political system’s failure to improve their economic prospects.

Even if they don’t start “riots” over a rival’s elevation, as Mr. Trump has suggested, there’s little reason to expect them to rally behind Mr. Ryan’s economic agenda. On taxes as well as trade and entitlements, many simply don’t support it.

In the interview, Mr. Ryan dismissed the “ridiculous notion” of assessing tax-overhaul proposals according to their effects on Americans of different income levels. “People don’t think like that,” he explained.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll last May, however, 53 percent of Republicans backed higher, not lower, taxes on those earning at least $1 million a year.

Divides like that — over dry policy doctrine or gut-level appeal, or both — make the satisfying clarification Mr. Ryan yearns for ever more distant. They increase the chance that a Democrat will win the presidency in November for the fifth time in the past seven elections, even if Republicans hold one or both houses of Congress.

And that would represent the outcome of Mr. Ryan’s nightmares. Mr. Boehner abandoned the speaker’s gavel in part because he could not balance governing with a liberal Democratic president while leading a conservative caucus. Mr. Ryan, who accepted the job reluctantly, said he feels “very frayed” nerves even now.

“What we’re worried about is having more of the same,” Mr. Ryan concluded. He has good reason.

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