Home 2016 elections What I Think Paul Ryan Is Trying to Do

What I Think Paul Ryan Is Trying to Do


I just got an email from the DCCC under the subject heading “Ryan embraces Trump.”

That might be a politically useful way to characterize the situation — it’s useful, I suppose, to show how craven the Republicans are, and especially to tie Donald Trump around the neck of Paul Ryan, who is worth the Democrats’ damaging if they can — but I think it misses the reality of what Ryan did today.

And that also means that it fails to show what it is that Ryan is trying to do. At least as I see it.

The important underlying reality is that Ryan wants to be president. 2020 might be a possibility. In the face of Trump’s nomination, he faces a very complex challenge: how to find a course, with this problematic nominee, that maximizes that possibility.

So what we are seeing is a clever politician trying to navigate his way through this challenge in a way that:

1) Keeps himself as free as possible of the taint and burden of Trump, who is not only repugnant to many Americans, but also might lead the Party into an electoral disaster this fall;

2) Avoids alienating that part of the Republican base that is enthusiastic for Trump– which is a big enough portion of the base that they have been able to hand Trump the Republican nomination for president.

Ryan cares about those Trump supporters not so much because he fears for his ability to keep winning his House seat– as Trump did poorly in Ryan’s District as well as in Wisconsin generally. (Of course, it’s always good to avoid alienating any segment of voters.) But a Republican candidate for president, running nationally, will have to be very concerned about staying on the good side the large number of Trump supporters around the country.

So he goes into the meeting and speaks of the importance of unity, and of being ““totally committed to working together,” which commits him to nothing, and may be designed to show the Trump supporters that he really wants this to work out, and that he is making the effort. And “I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified.”

No real embrace in any of that. As the Huffington Post reporter on today’s meeting notes, the one essential thing that was missing was “the speaker’s endorsement of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.”

As Ryan said after the meeting, “unifying the party is a process that simply “takes a little time.” And Ryan here is playing for time. Working to see how the situation develops, and to figure out accordingly what route he can take that ties him as little as possible to Trump while maintaining a positive image with the Trump supporters.

Ryan may end up supporting Trump, or he might not. He may have made his mind up which he is going to do or he might be feeling his way.

But either way, one thing I think we can say: If his posture of “I’ve got to be reassured” is sincere, Paul Ryan is a fool.

We’ve all seen enough to know who and what Trump is, and anyone but some kind of fool would know that nothing Trump might say or do could reasonably reassure anyone about it being OK for the United States to have a President Trump.

Given the qualities that he has shown — the bullying, the picking of fights, the readiness with the insult, the obsession with winning, the boasting, the shameless lying — anyone but a fool must know that it cannot be OK to hand the powers of the presidency to such a man.

So if Ryan does end up endorsing Trump, he’s either a fool or a person willing to sacrifice the nation to protect his political ambitions.

  • Andy Schmookler

    Re not underestimating Paul Ryan… Regular readers of Paul Krugman (of which I am emphatically one) will remember Paul Ryan as the guy Krugman is continually holding up as one who has conned the Beltway media into perceiving Ryan as a very serious and responsible policy guy, when he is nothing of the sort.

    Ryan’s budgets, Krugman has repeatedly said, are a bunch of smoke and mirrors and asterisks, which masks an irresponsible giveaway to the rich as an exercise in bugetary responsibility.

    One might rightly take this as an indictment of the gullibility and worse of the Beltway media. But it also should be seen as indicative of Ryan’s skill in adopting poses that successfully con people into seeing him as something more respectable than he really is.

    With that success behind him, Ryan may have some confidence he can find a pose that will work well for him with all the audiences he wants now to please during the Republican Party’s Age of Trump, which will last at least until Election Day.

  • I think you’re on the right track, Andy. But also, I think your 2nd point (Ryan not wanting to alienate Trump’s base supporters) is just slightly off – or maybe more accurately: not quite complete. I think part of what Ryan has to figure out is how to maintain the option of using Trump as fly paper; to get as many of the Extreme Right WingNuts as possible stuck to him, and if need be, look for the best time to cut ’em all loose; then pick up whatever pieces are left and own it all.

    As usual, these jokers think the “smart play” is to position yourself in the middle so you can tip the balance and jump to whichever side gets the advantage, and Ryan has spent an awful lot of camera time lately sounding like a guy who’s waiting for the Pollsters to bring him some new spreadsheets so he’ll know more about what he thinks he should do.

    • Andy Schmookler

      Interesting idea, Mike Roberts. I would appreciate your elaborating on it. In particular, could you give a fuller idea of how this “Trump as fly paper” gambit might work? I assume that by “Extreme Right WingNuts” you mean the people in the Republican House Caucus who drove Boehner into retirement, and are preventing Ryan from getting even the rudiments accomplished. Yes? So if that’s the case, what would the scenario look like by which those House members get stuck to Trump and get cut loose by Ryan?

      • Dang – I hadda open my big mouth. OK, here goes.

        Ryan knows the GOP voterbase is disgruntled.
        He knows there’s a strong Wingnut Caucus in the House (giving him fits) because of that disgruntlement.
        And that the Trump Candidacy is the latest and greatest embodiment of all that.

        He also knows Trump is more than likely to lose, and possibly lose big in November – which could translate into Repubs losing a dozen or more seats in the House. If Ryan can get his biggest “Problem Children” to marry up with Trump, there’s a fair chance they go down in flames along with him – leaving Ryan with a smaller majority, but with a chastised and thus more pliable caucus behind him, and the bonus of the high-probability of working with the kind of ConservDems who’ll get elected to fill the seats of the GOP crazies.

        Of course, he risks losing the Speakership, but with Hillary as POTUS, he’d still be at the very top of the GOP as Minority Leader, where “the establishment” will support their “bright young guy with all the great ideas about creative destruction” as he rebuilds the thing with people of his choosing.

        Obviously, there’re 37 jillion combinations and permutations of factors and scenarios; and I can only see what I’m allowed to see – so I’m just as likely to be talkin’ outa my ass because of everything I don’t know – but that’s kinda the gist of it.

        • Andy Schmookler

          Thank you for your response, Mike. An interesting analysis. The point in your scenario that may not work, it seems to me, is in your presuming that the House Republicans most likely to be hurt by Trump will be the crazies. It seems to me that the crazies of whom you speak are likely to come from districts that are quite safely red, whereas the more moderate Republicans are likely the ones that can swing either red or blue. If that is the case, then if Trump is an overall drag on the down-ticket Republicans, it will more likely be the moderates who lose their seats.

          • Fair point. I see how it blows up in his face in November, effectively giving his Problem Children a bigger piece of a smaller pie; and they’d be even more annoying than before.

            What if he could do something in the district primaries(?) I dunno – obviously – maybe all he has to do is shake things up in 5 or 6 of those safely red CDs(?) How hard would it be to beat Dave Brat in a primary if you convinced the Country Clubbers to throw in an extra million or two, and you came at him kinda outa the blue?

            Beats me. I just think if Ryan’s gonna stick around, he’s gotta find that judo move that uses the TeaPartiers’ “strength” against them. He has to do something to get the loonies back on the path.