A few months ago, Speaker Paul Ryan refused to share a stage with Donald Trump. Ashamed of the tape on which Trump was heard bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, he issued a fierce disavowal of Trump’s words and actions and cancelled all joint appearances. In an emergency call, he told his caucus not to worry about supporting the top of the ticket, to just look out for themselves—worried that Trump’s expected poor performance would drag the whole party down. Yet he never quite completely unendorsed Trump. Ryan hedged his bets, and it paid off.
In fact, as Ryan spoke today, he emphasized how much he and the rest of the party owe Trump. He attributed the large margins of victory in both congressional houses to a wellspring of support for the top of the GOP ticket. “This is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime,” he said. “Many of our fellow citizens don’t feel heard. Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He turned politics on its head. And now Donald Trump will lead a unified Republican government.” And Ryan, of course, will lead that government’s legislative branch.
The kudos didn’t stop at Trump. Ryan congratulated vice-president elect Mike Pence. He congratulated RNC chairman Reince Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite who was often beleaguered this campaign season. He congratulated Mitch McConnell, his counterpart in the Senate. He congratulated Sen. Ron Johnson (R–WI), a candidate with whom he had made many appearances, criss-crossing their shared home state to get him reelected.
Wisconsin also proved decisive for not only the GOP’s Congressional majority, but Trump himself. As Ryan said today, “For the first time since 1984 Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes went for a Republican,” No one saw that coming. Last night, as returns were coming in, it was when the Speaker;s home state was called that the Clinton side began to be sure that the night for them would end in defeat. And in the days and weeks to come, as Washington recalibrates in preparation for a Trump presidency, and the American people figure out how to prepare for the tenure of a leader whose positions are little understood and often mercurial, the story of the midwest embracing Trump will emerge as one of the most important of the campaign.
For now, Speaker Ryan has done what he needed to this morning. He kissed Trump’s ring. He gave the president-elect credit for creating a “united” government—a single-party monolith running both chambers of Congress and the executive branch—and he pledged to work with him to get back to the business of, as he put it, working for the American people.
Whether Trump, who is known for vindictiveness, will forget Ryan’s slights and accept this new support remains to be seen. As Ryan sang Trump’s praises, he insisted that he and Trump have a good working relationship. He said they have had, “great conversations to flesh out our transition.” He told the gathering press that they are working on aligning their schedules so they can meet in person. Now that Trump’s going to be in the West Wing, Ryan is apparently ready to make joint appearances again.