It’s easy to forget, after the horrifying Republican National Convention we just witnessed, and after Clint Eastwood lectured a chair at the RNC four years ago, that [Paul] Ryan’s VP-acceptance speech in 2012 was censured by the often-adoring press for being unusually misleading. He blamed President Barack Obama for the closure of a General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, that had been shuttered before Obama became president; for doing “exactly nothing” to implement the findings of a debt commission Ryan himself had driven to gridlock; and for several other tendentious or false things. When confronted with skepticism from the press, he hid behind bad spin and technicality and deception.
Back in 2011, when House Republicans were trying to extort fiscal policy concessions from Obama, Ryan used his intellectual cachet to claim that briefly defaulting on the national debt — for “a day or two or three or four” — would be harmless if it ultimately forced Obama to accede to GOP demands.
Ryan and his colleagues precipitated a sharp drop in consumer confidence. Their antics alone threatened to send the economy into recession, and if they had actually defaulted on the debt, per Ryan’s guidance, the economic carnage could have been far graver.
Today, the stewards of Ryan’s reputation are aghast when Trump says he might refuse to meet the country’s obligations to creditors, but they mostly overlooked Ryan’s comments five years ago, and he’s never really walked them back. It took his ascension to the House speakership, when the onus to raise the debt limit was falling on him, for his office to admit he now believes the debt limit deadline set by the Treasury Department “is the date.” But if Hillary Clinton becomes president, it’s easy to imagine him reverting to his prior, more reckless view.