Friday, August 10, 2018

Whitewashing Paul Ryan-- Who Randy Bryce Scared Off The Field


Here at DWT our war against Paul Ryan started well over a decade ago. And we love that it has been so widely picked up across the country. There was a time that no one knew who the hell he was and why he was so dangerous. That was a long time ago. I remember when Paul Krugman took up the fight in his NY Times column. That was the beginning of the change, although it still took the DCCC many years-- far too many years-- and many wasted election cycles, before they finally woke up and smelled the coffee. Thanks to Randy Bryce, they finally did this year; he left them no choice. And so did Ryan himself; Bryce left him no choice either. Ryan isn't running again. Earlier this week, Mark Leibovich, whose name I never saw attached to anything to do with Ryan, wrote an exhaustive piece for the NY Times Magazine, This is the way Paul Ryan's Speakership Ends. He apparently harbors a tiny bit of semi-admiration-- mixed with the pity Ryan always tries electing from people-- for the fucking dickhead. He interviewed him in the speaker's "ornate" Capitol Hill office after Ryan's appearance on Fox & Friends and a meeting at the White House with Señor Trumpanzee.

"Ryan announced in April," wrote Leibovich, "that he would not be seeking re-election, ending a 20-year run in Congress that, for most of it, seemed to be on a straight-up trajectory. Ryan’s official reason for leaving was that his 'family clock was ticking' and he no longer wanted to be a 'weekend dad.' But it’s easy to suspect otherwise, and not just because that is a clichéd excuse: Ambitious 48-year-old politicians at the peak of their powers don’t suddenly just decide to quit because they’ve discovered that their teenage children are growing up fast back in Wisconsin. Ryan should, by rights, be riding out of town at the pinnacle of his starlit Washington career. Yet he remains a distinctly awkward match to a moment-- and president-- that seem certain to define much of his legacy."

As has been strenuously noted, Trump and Ryan are stylistic and philosophical opposites: Trump the blunt-force agitator vs. Ryan the think-tank conservative. Trump lashes out while Ryan treads carefully. Ryan still fashions himself a “policy guy” and a man of ideas: In high school, he read the conservative philosopher Ayn Rand and was captivated by her signature work, Atlas Shrugged. He bills himself as a guardian of the free-trading, debt-shrinking notions that Republican-led governments used to stand for before Trump crashed the tent. The speaker says he tries to encourage good behavior in the president. “He put out a tweet last night that was really good,” Ryan told me after he and the president hung up. (It was apparently an inoccuous tweet about trade.) The speaker’s words carried the vaguely patronizing tone of a parent affirming a potty-training milestone.

Trump used to call Ryan “Boy Scout.” “I thought it was a compliment,” said Ryan, a former altar boy and habitual people-pleaser. But after the Republican-controlled Congress passed a few bills Trump announced to Ryan that he would stop using the nickname. “So I guess he meant it as an insult all along,” the speaker said. “I didn’t realize.” Ryan shrugged.

Questions about Donald Trump have been an inescapable companion to Ryan’s final months in office. They have trailed Ryan since the billionaire showman first incinerated the Republican Party as he knew it and reduced the boyish speaker to his most puzzled-over foil. “It was shocking to me,” Ryan told me of Trump’s rise. “I didn’t see it coming. It threw me off.” What would the supposedly principled conservative speaker tolerate? What would he fight for? Would he fight at all?
1- everything and anything
2- nothing, ever
3- not for anyone. If Trump raped his wife or daughter, Ryan would smile bitterly, like a martyr (or perhaps, at most, weep silently)

I'm imagining Leibovich decided not to try to directly answer those three rhetorical questions he posed.
Ryan is clearly sick of the “What about Trump?” questions and of having the dilemma imposed upon him. He has been held up as a figure of disdain across the spectrum: Trump-lovers have remained suspicious of him as a tool of the establishment and are quick to raise Ryan’s sacrileges against their hero during the campaign; Democrats, “never Trump” conservatives and-- quietly-- some elected Republicans wish Ryan would provide a stronger counterbalance to a battering-ram president. Ryan, the rap goes, has deserted his post as a potential conscience of the party and voice for decency, and he has allowed Trump’s most fervent acolytes in the House-- Devin Nunes, for instance-- to run wild in his defense. The speaker knows better and yet goes along anyway. “Ryan traded his political soul,” the conservative columnist George F. Will has written, “for... a tax cut.”

Ryan’s defiance to Trump, such as it is, can carry an almost pro forma quality. He will avoid or claim ignorance if possible (“I didn’t see the tweet”), chastise the president if he must (rarely by name), wait for the latest outrage to pass, rinse and repeat. “Frankly, I haven’t paid that close attention to it,” said Ryan at a June news conference in which he was asked about the job status of Scott Pruitt, the scandal-drenched E.P.A. administrator who was finally run out of office in July and whose mounting offenses over several months would have been impossible for even the most casual news consumer to miss.

“I can understand all of the rationalities,” says Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative radio host in Wisconsin who spent years trying to persuade Ryan to run for president before turning sharply against him over Trump. “In a Faustian bargain, you get a lot of things. You get the wealth, you get the beautiful women and you get all this good stuff.” In Ryan’s case, this would include tax and regulatory overhauls. “It just turns out the price is higher than you thought.”

Ryan hears such assessments all the time. “I’m very comfortable with the decisions I’ve made,” he told me. “I would make them again, do it again the same way.” He is quick to present his counterfactual. What if he were to pick a fight with Trump every time he said something that offended? “I think some people would like me to start a civil war in our party and achieve nothing.” Why should Ryan, despite his own misgivings, make himself the vehicle for anti-Trump wish-fulfillment?

The counter-counterfactual is this: Are Republican leaders so unwilling to condemn Trump because their voters support him so vigorously, or do these voters support Trump so vigorously because so few Republican leaders have dared condemn his actions? Chicken, meet egg.

“I would say the unwillingness of Ryan and others to offer an alternative vision to Trump would be the reason” that Trump’s approval number is so high, Sykes told me. “When your best and brightest basically run up the white flag, it’s going to have an effect.”

The last few months have been a particularly checkered stretch of Paul Ryan’s finale. He agreed to a series of exit interviews during a tumultuous summer, over which Trump would blowtorch his way through a tour of Europe, call the European Union a top foe of the United States, feud with NATO, embrace Vladimir Putin and absolve the Russians for election meddling-- and then came home to insinuate himself into Republican primary campaigns, escalate his attacks on Robert Mueller and threaten to shut down the government if he didn’t get his border wall.

...Far from any unified governing philosophy, the animating objective for much of today’s Republican Party has been reduced to whatever Trump does or wants. The main goal of many elected Republicans is to curry the approval of the president, avoid provoking him (or, worse, a tweet) and thus not inflame the “base.” Being deemed an infidel inside the Church of the Base can be lethal for even the most ensconced incumbent (Mark Sanford, a South Carolina representative and a persistent Trump critic, was primaried out of his misery in June).

...It was only after Trump stunned Hillary Clinton in November that Ryan forged a détente with Trump born of a powerful convenience: The new president knew (or cared) little about policy, and Ryan was happy to fill the void in exchange for Trump’s signature. (The anti-tax activist Grover Norquist once identified the most important characteristic of any Republican president as “enough working digits to handle a pen.”)

Trump’s signature across the Republican tax-reform bill gave both men their chief legislative accomplishments. In Ryan’s case, the bill supersized the deficit and made a mockery of the “debt crisis” that Ryan used to talk endlessly about during the Barack Obama years. The bill has also failed to attract the widespread approval in polls that tax cuts typically do, and has become only less popular over time.
Does Ryan want to be president? You bet he does. Leibovich didn't mention it. Nor did Leibovich mention Wisconsin ironworker Randy Bryce, who was on track to beat Ryan in November. Suddenly Ryan surrendered and scurried away. Leibovich isn't the only elite member of the media blindly accepting Ryan's narrative about how he couldn't stand Trump any more. That will look good on his political resume-- a lot better than "he was beaten by a union construction worker in 2018."

IronStache by Nancy Ohanian



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