On the last day of an opulent retreat convened by the billionaire Koch brothers, House Speaker Paul Ryan began to frame the political landscape should Donald Trump lose the 2016 election, declaring his intention to reshape the Republican Party in his own image.
Charles and David Koch, a deep-pocketed, highly influential force in conservative politics, have been outspoken in their refusal to back Donald Trump, citing both policy and moral ground — views Ryan indulged at the retreat Monday.
“We see ourselves in the House as sort of the engine room of the ship of the Republican Party.”
In his half-hour speech, Ryan emphasized the importance for conservatives to “retake the soul of our own party, which we have our own challenges with these days.” A clear dig at Trump.
“We have to do a better job of taking the moral high ground … showing [conservative] ideas in practice,” Ryan told the room of about 400 donors at a luxury resort near the Rocky Mountains.
Ryan, who has repeatedly attempted to distance himself from Trump — despite having endorsed the GOP ticket — commiserated with the Koch network over the lengthy and unpredictable primary elections.
“We had 17 people running for president before the Iowa caucus,” Ryan said. “We had no idea who our nominee was going to be, and the goal was to then draft with that nominee, and then bring [the Ryan agenda] to the country.”
After a brief pause Ryan noted that “we have a different kind of nominee now.” As the room reportedly responded with laughter, Ryan added, “He’s unique.”
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Though Ryan did not mention Trump by name, he countered Trump’s populist stance on the economy and vowed to promote conservative plans like comprehensive tax reform.
“We want to be known for this. We want to run on this. We want to earn the right to put this in place,” Ryan said. “That’s the kind of validating election we’re seeking.”
Ryan sought to stake out his leadership role within the Republican Party, a leadership role many think he sees as part of a path to the White House, asserting that the GOP is “flirting with various forms of progressivism.”
“I’m looking at the current moment, which is clearly an interesting moment. We see ourselves in the House as sort of the engine room of the ship of the Republican Party,” Ryan said.
“We’re down in the bottom … in the bowels shoveling coal into the furnace. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with coal,” gaining laughs and an applause from the audience, which contains several coal barons.
Ryan, whose positions on issues like trade and immigration run counter to Trump’s, sought to offer his Establishment doctrine as a more stable foundation for the party’s future.
“But we also see ourselves adding a keel and a rudder to the ship, giving it substance and giving it direction. Giving it a moral foundation.”