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The rapprochement between Donald Trump and the Republicans he insulted will not happen overnight

The meeting in Washington DC was probably the first of many 

Rupert Cornwell
Washington DC
Thursday 12 May 2016 17:50 BST
Mr Trump says he has brought new people to the Republican Party
Mr Trump says he has brought new people to the Republican Party (Reuters)

It would have been amazing had it been otherwise. Donald Trump’s crucial meetings with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill – most importantly the House Speaker Paul Ryan – were variously hailed by the participants as “very encouraging,” “great,” and “planting the seeds of unity.” What political party goes into an election openly acknowledging disunity?

But it was no less clear the meetings were but the start of a process that could take some weeks, and that differences remain between Mr Ryan and the billionaire businessman which may never be dispelled. The Speaker admitted as much – hardly a surprise after his stunning declaration last week that he was “not there yet” when it came to supporting Mr Trump.

And, if words have meaning, he still isn’t quite there. Yes, the post-meeting joint statement by the two men, spoke of only a “few” differences between them, and stressed that the highest Republican elected official and the party’s standard-bearer this autumn against Hillary Clinton were “totally committed to working together.”

Mr Ryan still failed to endorse Mr Trump
Mr Ryan still failed to endorse Mr Trump (AP)

But a specific endorsement? That will have to wait. Those differences may be few, but they are huge. They range from the Speaker’s determination to scale back costly government programmes like Medicaire and Medicaid, which Mr Trump refuses to touch, in the interests of a balanced budget, to Mr Ryan’s dismay at the latter’s positions on immigration, his tirades against Muslims and Mexicans, and his unease with Mr Trump’s often vulgar tone and constantly changing positions.

In reality of course both men are being propelled towards accommodation. Mr Ryan, who may be mulling a White House run of his own in 2020, doesn’t want to go down as the man who wrecked party’s chances in 2016. He also wants to preserve his party’s majority in the House – which might end up its sole bulwark in Washington if Mr Trump is defeated and costs the Republicans control of the Senate.

As for Mr Trump, it may the year of the outsider, of a voters’ backlash against a discredited Washington establishment. “I have a mandate,” he correctly proclaims.

But even someone who’s brought millions of new voters into the Republican fold during the primaries can’t lightly forego the support of the man who ex officio is still scheduled to wield the gavel at the Cleveland convention.

A formal split in the Republican party – that would seal its fate in November - is unlikely. But if it happens it will be because conservative purists break away. Mr Ryan is a certified conservative, and his explicit support will help persuade ideological Republicans to hold their noses and back a candidate who they believe has hardly a conservative bone in his body.

But rapprochement won't happen overnight, or “in 45 minutes” as Mr Ryan put it later. Rather, it’s a process that will continue at further meetings over the next few weeks, that get down into policy specifics. The outcome, though, is hardly in doubt. The Republicans will have their “unity.” Sometimes even a figleaf will do.

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