House Speaker Paul Ryan warned some of his Republican Party’s biggest donors on Monday that some in the GOP are flirting with progressive ideas and kowtowing to frustrated voters on trade.
Speaking on the final day of a retreat for donors to the network of groups backed by billionaires Charles and David Koch, the Republican leader cast the current debate in Washington a “fight for the soul of our party and for our country.” He made only oblique references to Republican nominee Donald Trump and instead promised these 400 donors, who give at least $100,000 to the Koch groups, that next year would be one packed with reforms—if Republicans can unify.
“We’ve got to win some of these fights in Washington on behalf of the free-market system. We have our work cut out for us,” Ryan said at the grand Broadmoor resort.
It’s not clear, though, that a President Trump would be on the same page as Ryan, especially on the issues of trade. Ryan says the United States should be a leader on trade deals, while Trump wants to tear them up.
“We have a different kind of nominee now. It’s unique,” Ryan said. Speaking of the thorny issue of trade, the Speaker was honest: “We’re having a hard time with our party these days.”
Trump won the Republican nomination by railing against trade deals and promising that manufacturing jobs would return if only better international agreements were written. Frustrated voters flocked to Trump and his vague notions. This network of Koch allies, known formally as Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, watched in horror.
“We are flirting with various forms of progressivism, and there are Republican forms of progressivism. Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican,” Ryan said. “We have to thoroughly debunk it, repudiate it.”
Even so, Ryan has endorsed Trump, a nominee who has few friends at this retreat. Charles Koch told guests he cannot back either party’s nominee and instead will focus on keeping a Republican majority in the Senate. Ryan could only say the nation was having “clearly an interesting moment.”