Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may be learning this week that his deal with the Donald is not what he thought it was.
Joining Donald Trump in the New York billionaire's march to the White House probably doesn't make Ryan Trump's legislator-in-chief, as many have hoped. No relationship with Trump can be that clean. Trump this week reminded Ryan of that.
Many conservatives have pegged their tattered hopes for the next four years on the theory that a President Trump would be aloof from policymaking, and that he'd just let conservatives around him craft the details.
Conservative Republican staffers in Washington have justified boarding the Trump Train with such wishful thinking. Trump doesn't care about policy, they argue. If pro-lifers, entitlement reformers and tax-cutters join Trump's team and help him win, they will drive the ship.
One pillar of this hope was that under President Trump, Ryan would become the policy brain in a Trump government.
"Mr. Ryan is offering Mr. Trump, should he obtain the White House, a concrete strategy to make America great again," the Wall Street Journal's Joe Rago wrote. "Mr. Trump can't govern and succeed in office without Mr. Ryan's help," Rago continued, "Mr. Trump seems to appreciate as much, though there can be cognitive dissonance."
In Cleveland, Republican officials warily expressed this hope. "What we're likely to see in the Trump presidency," former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said on a panel during the Republican National Convention last month, "at least in the first 200 days, is the agenda will be driven by the House."
"It's a lot easier to take off the shelf sometimes than think it up yourself," Republican congressman Tom Cole chipped in on the same panel. "And what Paul Ryan has done is put policy on the shelf."
But a Trump-Ryan partnership of that sort was never possible, because that's not the sort of man Donald Trump is.
Trump showed it again this week. After Ryan had the temerity to criticize Trump's jihad against Khzir Khan — the father of a Muslim Army officer who gave his life in Iraq — Trump taunted Ryan with a tweet of appreciation for the speaker's Republican primary challenger, and then flatly refused to endorse Ryan.
At best, this was petty payback by Trump, the self-described "counterpuncher." What would that portend for a Trump-Ryan partnership in Washington? Sure, I may let you write up your little entitlement reform as long as you never criticize a single one of my authoritarian proclamations, bigoted utterances and putrid rhetorical turds. Of course, it would also fit the pattern if Trump were just arbitrarily and capriciously smacking Ryan around — you know, just to let him know who's boss.
Endorsing Trump, it turns out, was only the first indignity.
You can understand Trump better if you read up on Lyndon Johnson or if you visit any local dog park. A primary aim of his social interactions is to establish dominance over other men. Look at how he has demeaned Chris Christie (even making fat jokes) and taunted his former opponents after they endorsed him.
You don't get to be Trump's partner. Join him, and you become his manservant.
If you're a conservative policy wonk, and you think you're in a partnership with Trump, get in line. Get in line behind the employees he stiffed, the creditors he left hanging, the students at Trump University he fleeced. Get in line behind the first two women with whom he exchanged vows.
Trump doesn't see these deals-gone-sour as regrettable. He sees them as victories. Trump is always out to get the better of everyone else.
For most of Trump's marks, creditors and victims, it's too late to recoup their losses. For Republicans and conservatives who care about ideas, truth and the country's future, there's still time to extract themselves from this abusive relationship.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.