The Real Paul Ryan
Along with many other disturbing things Donald Trump’s election showed us about our country, Wisconsin and the nation are finally getting to see exactly who Paul Ryan really is.
There was Ryan standing before television cameras gushing with delight over the election of a president he’d previously called the textbook definition of a racist.
It’s surprising it took so long to expose the true character of a politician who’s been in Congress for 17 years, continually moving into ever more visible national roles.
But particularly over the past year, Ryan bobbed and weaved back and forth between supporting and condemning the Republican Party’s appalling presidential nominee on almost a weekly basis, depending on which position he thought would benefit him most politically.
Ryan had risen to speaker of the House, the highest position in Congress, by pretending he didn’t want the job. “Please, please, don’t throw me into that briar patch!”
But Ryan’s relationship with the Trump campaign was more complicated. He couldn’t figure out whether to suck up to the unsavory Trump in case the Republican nominee won or to distance himself so if Trump crashed and burned, as many expected, Ryan would be positioned to become the party’s next nominee.
So Ryan did both. Constantly.
Ryan initially said he would support Trump if he won the nomination. But when Trump actually secured enough votes, Ryan made a show of withholding support, saying he needed proof Trump could clean up his act and stop saying so many divisive, offensive things right out loud.
That lasted four weeks. Trump’s bigoted rhetoric didn’t become any less vile, but a month later Ryan said he’d vote for him anyway.
But Ryan continued to condemn Trump’s campaign, especially his racist attack on the Mexican heritage of the judge presiding over a Trump University fraud trial, his unconstitutional proposal for a religious ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and his tasteless denunciation of the grieving Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
Then when Trump was caught on audiotape bragging about grabbing the genitals of women without their consent, Ryan’s moral repulsion appeared to have finally passed the breaking point. Ryan said he could no longer defend Trump or campaign with him.
Then a week before the election Ryan revealed he’d cast an early ballot for Trump.
And there was Ryan last week exuberantly celebrating “the dawn of a new era of unified Republican government” under the man he’d found so morally repugnant. “It feels really good to say that, actually.”
Despite Ryan’s moral flip-flops, the House Republicans unanimously supported him for speaker for the 2017-18 term. It’s amazing how many twists and turns an ambitious, shape-shifting politician can make to hang onto power if his character is malleable enough.
Ryan More Extreme Than Trump
Obviously Ryan has to be elected speaker by the full Congress in January. Ryan is not Trump’s favorite person and the incoming president is justifiably famous for remembering anyone who has slighted him in the past and then exacting his revenge. However, Ryan will be elected speaker whether Trump likes it or not since he has the support of the Republican members of Congress, who are the majority.
Another ominous sign, Trump’s top White House political strategist is the sleazy Steve Bannon, who formerly ran a racist, anti-Semitic, white supremacist website called Breitbart News. And Bannon despises Ryan.
Breitbart News regularly attacked Ryan as soft on immigration and pro-trade. During the campaign, it published stories suggesting Ryan’s anti-Trump machinations were intentionally designed to throw the election to Clinton.
But anyone who starts feeling too sorry for Ryan should realize that, believe it or not, some of Trump’s strongest policy disagreements with Ryan are because Trump takes a much more humane approach than Ryan to protecting government programs that benefit the American people.
Responding to Ryan’s criticisms, Trump said the reason the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket lost by a landslide in 2012 was Ryan’s extreme right-wing House budgets that threatened to destroy Social Security and Medicare. Trump repeatedly vowed during the campaign not to cut those programs.
No one really knows whether to believe anything Trump says. His campaign was a constant stream of wild, unconstitutional or impossible-to-achieve promises, many of which he’s already reversed or allowed to disappear into the ether.
But another major Trump promise that makes sense coming from a developer is his proposal for a massive government program to rebuild the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and create millions of jobs.
Ryan has always been an implacable foe of large government programs. He favors slashing all federal spending and returning the money to America’s wealthiest taxpayers in enormous tax cuts.
It’s not hard to predict who would win a major policy showdown between President Trump and Speaker Ryan. Ryan is probably just beginning his humiliating political reinvention of himself in Trump’s image.
Ryan is fortunate his friend and fellow Wisconsinite Reince Priebus has become Trump’s chief of staff. Reince is just the expert to instruct Ryan in the fine art of bootlicking.