So you may have been asking yourself: who the heck is Paul Ryan and why was his meeting Thursday with Donald Trump so important?
There are a number of answers to this question, I will present two: first, Ryan is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and therefore plays a very important role in U.S. politics; second, Paul Ryan is a member of the Republican Party establishment that is struggling with the idea that Trump is the nominee even though the Republican National Committee has proclaimed him as the presumptive nominee.
First, let us look at the role of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. There are two legislative branches of government in the U.S called the Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the American system of government, the president does not sit in either of the two legislative branches. The executive is made up of the president, the vice president and the cabinet and is a separate branch. In the United States, the Senate and the House are both elected bodies. The Congress works to pass legislation that follows a path through both Houses.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives has a number of roles including being second in the line of succession after the vice president and the speaker sets the legislative agenda for the House. In other words, he or she chooses the bills that will be entered into the process for legislative approval. At the present time, the Republicans have a majority in Congress and that is why there has been such a tussle between the Congress and the president to move any significant legislation forward.
The ideal scenario (for politicians) is one in which the president's party has the majority representation in the House and in the Senate. So, one would think that the Ryan/Trump meeting would be to plan for a full-steam ahead Republican legislative agenda should Trump win the presidency but, alas, things are not that simple.
Over the last week, the meeting between Ryan and Trump has been presented in the media as a "showdown." The problem is that over the last year Trump has played the "political outsider" card and has taken on the Republican Party establishment. He has alienated and made fun of significant party figures and has presented views that have not always been aligned with the Republican Party legislative agenda.
In any normal primary race, the nominee would likely be brought into line with the party quickly - generally they would never be so far removed from the party's principles and agenda but Trump is not likely to fall in line. His outsider position is the why he won the nomination. He has a very powerful populist appeal. He has brought out more voters than ever before probably because his legislative agenda is different than the establishment's agenda (many will argue that Trump's legislative agenda is still unclear but things he says certainly seem to resonate).
In the week leading up to the meeting, Ryan told CNN's Jake Tapper that he was not ready to endorse Trump. The most telling part of the interview came when Ryan made a significant statement about the party's legacy and noted that any nominee was actually inheriting a party that "is very special to a lot of us." Ryan did not mince words: "... we don't always nominate a Lincoln and a Reagan every four years, but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln and Reagan-esque, but that person advances the principals of our party and appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans."
Trump responded by saying: "I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan's agenda. Perhaps in the future, we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people..."
So these two very powerful leaders met on Thursday and they issued a joint statement to say that they were united in their belief that they need to unite the party in order to win the election. This statement does not mean a great deal.
The fact is that these two men will need to figure out what Trump can promise during the general election campaign because the president is not immune to the power of the House even if the players are on the same side.