Trump and Ryan as Avatars of Gingrich and Kemp

Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan will eventually patch together a rapprochement.

It won’t be real, but not because of their well-established substantive differences on trade, immigration or entitlements. After all, Trump seems flexible on any and all issues; hard-core principles are not an obstacle.

But the two Republican leaders have profoundly different approaches to politics: On one side, an optimistic conservatism that reaches out and is inclusive; on the other, one that seeks to energize an angry and alienated conservative base, including by playing to racial and ethnic fears.

The Trump-Ryan schism can be best understood by looking at two proxies: former Congressman Jack Kemp, who was Ryan’s mentor and political role model, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is being considered as Trump’s running mate.

Gingrich recently claimed that Trump “is a little bit like Jack Kemp, but so much bigger a figure.” There may be an argument about the latter part, but almost no one who was close to Kemp believes the real estate tycoon is anything like him.

This schism has little to do with ideology. Kemp, who was the 1996 Republican vice-presidential nominee and died in 2009, was no liberal; he never met a tax he didn’t want to cut or eliminate and until his later years was a foreign policy hawk. But he had a much more inclusive view of conservatism than many of his colleagues. 

gingrichspeaker_small Trump and Ryan as Avatars of Gingrich and Kemp

The contrasts between the views of Kemp and Gingrich on touchstone issues over the years illustrates why Trump and Ryan will never be soulmates.

In 1994, Kemp campaigned against California’s Proposition 187, a Republican-led initiative that barred undocumented immigrants from using public services, including education. Gingrich said he probably would have voted for it. The measure passed but it alienated the state’s fast-growing Hispanic population and Democrats have dominated California politics ever since.

A former professional football player, Kemp played with black teammates, marched in civil rights protests and forged friendly alliances with a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Gingrich had stormy relations with most members of that caucus, including his fellow Georgia lawmaker, John Lewis.

The contrast is equally striking when it comes to attitudes toward Muslims. After Sept. 11, Kemp said he supported a “war” against terrorism but stressed that it was not a war against Muslims.

Gingrich, like Trump, sees danger in Islam. He fiercely opposed a proposal to build a multicultural center and mosque in downtown Manhattan near the World Trade Center. “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The former speaker once tried to persuade New Jersey Governor Chris Christie not to appoint a Muslim judge, warning against the dangers of Sharia law. Christie appointed the judge in 20111 anyway, saying the concern over Sharia law was bogus

There even is a pronounced Kemp-Gingrich split that mirrors Ryan and Trump, over Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of most Republicans these days. Kemp worked for Reagan when he was governor of California, helped convert him to supply side economics and was close to him during his presidency.

When Gingrich ran for president in 2012 he frequently claimed an association with Reagan, even though they had little contact and the lawmaker often criticized the president.

Ryan is not a carbon copy of his mentor. Kemp, who never worried much about budget deficits, would have recoiled at some of the spending cuts to social services that the Wisconsin lawmaker has proposed. And as speaker, Ryan was slow to follow Kemp’s model in reaching out to the poor.

But Ryan does practice the politics of opportunity and inclusion. By contrast, Trump, and often Gingrich, capitalize on anger and fear and are willing to play the race card. It has served them well.

This split is one that cannot easily be negotiated.