Paul Ryan: The Silent Speaker

Paul D. Ryan was one of the few reassuring touchstones for traditional Republicans, assuring them that the GOP hadn’t completely imploded. As a result, many of the pieces written about Ryan’s decision not to run for reelection in 2018 conflate his exit with the end of a Republican Party once characterized by people like Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. As the party ambles through the Donald Trump wilderness, its experienced navigators continue to fall away, most notably in sight of an unfavorable wave election. Pew Research Center notes that about 38 Republican House Members will not seek reelection–a near record high. Add to that list, Paul D. Ryan whose announced departure from the House of Representatives has inspired numerous articles about his legacy.

Poring over the pieces recounting his triumphs and failings, I have found the most mystifying articles those castigating the Speaker for not “speaking out” more strongly against President Donald Trump. I truly struggle to understand this critique, if it is, in fact, made in good faith.

I think it is important to note that these articles come from a liberal perspective (there may be conservative writers criticizing Ryan on similar grounds, but I have not seen them yet). This observation matters for two reasons: first, liberals tend to overestimate the power of protesting.

For example, Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic:

“Ryan blinked at confronting the president’s appeals to white racial resentments. Pressed for reaction to comments like Trump’s reported description of African nations as ‘shithole’ countries, Ryan managed to mumble the bare minimum of plausible criticism: ‘The first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful.’ For most people genuinely distressed by Trump’s remarks, ‘unfortunate’ and ‘unhelpful’ were probably not the first words that came to mind; ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ were.”

What exactly Brownstein believes a more forceful condemnation would have done escapes me. Donald Trump would not reflect on those comments and apologize. In fact, when Ryan said that Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel were an example of textbook racism, nothing changed. Of course, a decent person does not wear the label “racist” as a “badge of honor,” but I suspect that Brownstein would not characterize the President as a decent person. Who would?

On the other hand, what we do know is that President Trump works with people who “say nice things” about him. So, besides obliterate any possibility that Ryan could achieve his own legislative ends, those policies once associated with Republicans, what would harsher criticism have accomplished?

This, of course, is the point, and is the second reason why this particular criticism comes from the left: Liberals want a crippled GOP. A crippled GOP can’t pass tax cuts, or curtail government spending. A crippled GOP can’t reform entitlements, and it cannot do so in Ryan’s image if Ryan is feuding with a mercurial president who has no grand vision. In other words, goading Ryan and other traditional Republicans to follow the Jeff Flake model is a surefire way to ensure that no part of a conservative agenda is served. In the face of criticism Trump doesn’t change. He tweets. The offending politician may lose his or her job, and the GOP distills, becoming even more Trumpian–even more difficult to defend.

Furthermore, Paul Ryan is not a commentator. His role in the political process is to compromise with people with whom he disagrees to win legislative victories for the people who elected him. Ryan worked with President Barack Obama and with the House Freedom Caucus to accomplish as much as he could, a task that required him to speak strategically, not emotionally. Not symbolically. Perhaps in a new role he will have the freedom to speak for himself and to solely bear the responsibility of what he says. Perhaps he will choose, still, to refrain. Either way, he hadn’t that freedom before.

As for the articles suggesting that the Trumpian changes in the GOP are forcing out thoughtful conservatives like Ryan, there can be no doubt.

RINO Hunters’ Circular Firing Squad

The 2016 Republican Nomination race, simplistically cast as a competition between “Establishment RINOs” and the “True Conservative” base, illustrates a destructive psychosis currently infecting the GOP. Paranoid voices on the right insist that the party is under siege by a liberal cabal of kamikaze Republicans–RINOs, The Establishment. Stemming from political messaging, which, by nature, emphasizes oppression and persecution in order to connect voters emotionally to candidates and policies, this narrative divides Republicans and paves the way for Democratic victories.

John Hayward, at Breitbart, begins a particularly daft piece by defining the Establishment thusly:

 

“There is a part of the GOP power structure,” Hayward writes, “that has always been most happy to serve as the permanent minority, personally enriched by serving as minor, ineffective obstacles to the ruling Left. They win elections by cadging millions from conservatives desperate to Do Something about the mess in Washington, then sink comfortably into that mess as though relaxing in a jacuzzi, rousing themselves only to display true fury against the occasional cage-rattling, boat-rocking conservative insurgent.”

 

Enter the straw man argument. (Thanks, Obama!)

 

Who, in the “GOP power structure,” is “happy to serve as the permanent minority?” Who is “personally enriched” by powerlessness?

 

The immediate response RINO Hunters gave to these questions used to be Speaker John Boehner, the man  who tearfully wrested the Speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi in 2010, heeding the call from the “cage-rattling, boat-rocking conservative insurgents” known as the Tea Party. Boehner promised to curb federal spending, and he delivered–cutting the deficit by three quarters during his tenure. He rallied every single Republican House member to vote against Obamacare. He protected the Bush Tax Cuts from expiring on all Americans.

 

This wasn’t enough to placate Pharisaic Republicans, though. The Daily Caller’s Guy Bentley reports that Boehner left the Speakership with only 24% of Republicans viewing him favorably. A YouGov word cloud showed that the most common words used by Republicans to describe Boehner are “quitter,” “spineless,” “weak,” and “RINO.” Given that level of gratitude for successfully stymying President Barack Obama’s agenda from one house of Congress, it is no wonder the GOP struggled to replace Boehner.

 

But, we eventually did–turning to young, Republican budget hawk, Paul D. Ryan.  His credentials, used to quiet RINO Hunters who had recast the 2008 conservative standard bearer Mitt Romney into the role of the 2012 RINO, haven’t protected him from the cannibalistic right-wing media. Breitbart’s Alex Swoyer calls Ryan “unchained.” Vox Day, of the bizarre World Net Daily, calls Ryan a RINO. So does syndicated talk show host, Joe Walsh. And on and on the monkey chases its tail.

 

So, “Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?” asks satirist Paul Shanklin.

 

Ask Hayward’s “cage-rattling boat rockers” who 2016’s true conservatives are, and they will likely to point to the two current Republican frontrunners: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Understanding how these two candidates have come to epitomize a conservative ideal requires one to know nothing of conservative principles at all.

 

Trump, who openly boasts about his massive donations to politicians on both sides of the spectrum, somehow eludes the Establishment stamp. Beneath his crass, classless ad hominem attacks lie his big government fairy tale policy “ideas.” Not only will building a wall along the southern border do nothing to stop the more than 40% of immigrants who overstay their VISAs, but it cannot be constructed (on Mexico’s or our dime) because of eminent domain issues and its prohibitive costs.

 

Trump’s plan to Institute a ban on all Muslims entering the country is even stupider. If you were an Islamic terrorist bent on killing Americans, would you tell a customs agent that you’re a Muslim? If you weren’t a terrorist, but just a Muslim, who would pay for your return flight?

 

Debating his “wrong-but-strong” policies is pointless because they can never happen.Finally, and most importantly, Trump loses to Hillary Clinton (whom he paid to attend his most recent wedding) in every single poll Real Clear Politics uses in its aggregates. Interestingly, the Republican Establishment that is “happy to serve as the permanent minority” doesn’t support Trump.

 

Ted Cruz came to fame by vacuuming up money from gullible donors during his 2013 government shutdown. To this day, he offers no explanation as to how shutting down the government would have defunded Obamacare–a piece of legislation that was already paid for via past appropriations. After a closed-door meeting with Republican Senators yielded no strategy answers from Mr. Cruz, one Senator said:

    “It’s pretty evident it’s never been about a strategy–it’s been about him (Cruz)…I think he’s done our country a major disservice. I think he’s done Republicans a major disservice.”

 

Then, again, even if the shutdown could have produced a budget that slashed Obamacare, no one (not even Cruz) believes that President Obama would have signed it. Yet, despite this, Hayward didn’t include Cruz in his admonitions of Republicans who are “…personally enriched by serving as minor, ineffective obstacles to the ruling Left.”

 

And herein lies the problem: The constant bleating about RINOs and the Republican establishment smacks of insanity when scam artists and Establishment candidates are forwarded as the answers to this so-called problem. The very conservatives who argue that “words have meaning,” abandon the very meanings of words like “amnesty,” “RINO,” and “Establishment,” if doing so allows for masochistic catharsis.

 

And so, RINOs and Establishment Republicans pose no threat to the conservative cause, and the monikers mean nothing. RINOs and Establishment Republicans are those who believe that we advance conservatism by winning elections. We win elections by broadening the Party. We broaden the Party by connecting sound, productive, conservative ideas with people in need.

 

RINO Hunters are true RINOs (as they don’t care about the Party) who wish to shrink the GOP by way of purity tests and fanciful policy prescriptions that feel good, but do nothing. Trump led gullible conservatives down the Birther path, and Cruz down the government shutdown path– both for self aggrandizement. RINO Hunters are “happy to serve as the permanent minority,” and their banner candidates revel in being “personally enriched by serving as minor, ineffective obstacles to the ruling Left.”
Enough already.