Paul Ryan Wasn’t Helping Trump Anyway

Paul RyanThe New York Times reported what is supposed to be big news, Paul Ryan Won’t Defend Donald Trump, Upsetting Trump and GOP Hard-Liners. It starts with the absurd claim, “House Speaker Paul D Ryan dealt a hammer blow to Donald J Trump’s presidential candidacy Monday, dashing any remaining semblance of party unity and inviting fierce backlash from his own caucus by announcing that he would no longer defend Mr Trump’s candidacy.” How is this a hammer blow?

Is Ryan a big Trump surrogate? No. Their relationship has been, at best, strained. It took him until June to endorse Trump’s candidacy. And then Trump paid him back by waiting until August to finally endorsed Paul Ryan’s re-election. And when he did so, Paul Ryan didn’t even show up.

Paul Ryan Hasn’t Been Good for Trump

Ryan has been more well known for things like calling on Trump to release his taxes. And calling a Trump statement “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” And most recently releasing a statement saying, “I am sickened by what I heard today.”

So again: where is the hammer blow? All that has happened is that Paul Ryan isn’t going to campaign for Trump for the next four weeks. Instead, he’s going to campaign for down-ballot candidates. But you know: that’s the same thing. Trump supporters don’t want to see Ryan at Trump’s rallies anyway. I suppose that more reasonable Republicans (ones that don’t show up to Trump rallies) might see Ryan with Trump and feel more comfortable voting for him. But after last Friday’s video? And what seems likely to be more embarrassments to come? I just don’t see Trump being harmed by this. It could even help him.

Now Paul Ryan Could Help Trump

So this is not going to change things for Trump. Even with a clear commitment to Trump, I don’t think Ryan really helps.

One way it could help Trump is by stopping Paul Ryan from having to respond to every new Trump outrage. This is where the “defend” comes from in the headline. So let’s suppose that the police arrest Trump when they find the skeletons of dozens of adolescent boys buried at Mar-a-Lago. Paul Ryan won’t need to demand an investigation. He won’t need to say that it’s a textbook case of pedophilic serial killing. He won’t be required to release a statement about how sickened he is. Instead, Paul Ryan can say, “I told you: I’m not defending Donald J Trump anymore!”

This whole article in The New York Times is typical of the press thinking things are important because the press thinks they are important. Paul Ryan certainly has maintained a high approval rating among Republicans. But we certainly haven’t seen any polls recently. The last one I could find was from back in July when he had an approval rating of 71 percent. But note: Donald Trump had an approval rating of 65 percent. And here’s the key: what do Republicans really know about Paul Ryan?

Ryan’s Soft Support

I think this is key. Paul Ryan knows that his support among Republicans is soft. That’s why he won’t come out and rescind his endorsement. He also knows that his grip on the House speakership is loose. According to Vox, after leaving the conference call yesterday morning where he laid out his decision, “He had to get back on the call to address accusations that he was abandoning the nominee.”

So this is not going to change things for Trump. Even with a clear commitment to Trump, I don’t think Ryan really helps. So this is really nothing to Trump.

What Paul Ryan Cares About

But it is a big deal to Ryan. In the call yesterday morning, Ryan reportedly said, “You [Republican House members] all need to do what’s best for you in your district.” That’s all that Ryan is doing. As Fortune noted, “Ryan’s message appeared to signal his disbelief in Trump’s ability to turn the campaign around with four weeks until election day.” This is all tax cuts and deregulation. If Ryan thought Trump would win, he wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Paul Ryan Wasn’t Helping Trump Anyway

  1. Nate Silver in a discussion on 538 said the future is grim for “fiscal conservatives” like Ryan. I suspect this is true (although Ryan’s economic policies are the worst kind of social conservatism as well). The base wants its red meat, bloodier the better. If I were an evil genius, I’d try to steer the party away from such overt sexism and anti-Latino racism. Stick to hating Muslims and African-Americans, as they’ll never get those votes back anyways. But even then, the damage done among Latino voters will be hard to undo. People who lived through this campaign will remember it for a long time.

    • Paul Ryan isn’t just a fiscal conservative; he’s also a dyed-in-the-wool culture warrior. His record on abortion rights, for instance, is just as extreme as Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin’s. He just doesn’t talk about it as much, which gives him the public impression of being “sensible” and “moderate.” I don’t know if he really believes in these causes or if he just supports them because it gets the base to support his Ayn Randism, but it doesn’t make much difference.

    • I’ll have to dig that article up, because my gut tells me it isn’t true. It’s like all the obsession with debt and balancing the budget. That’s not popular. It never has been. But it is popular among the elites. So it gets beaten into the minds of the public. I’ve come to think that in a capitalism — at least the kind of capitalism we have — it isn’t really possible to have democracy.

  2. Yes, Ryan needs Trump much more than Trump needs Ryan. Trump’s campaign wasn’t based on establishment support anyway. If he did get in, the GOP establishment would probably hate him on a personal level for making them grovel and tarnishing their brand, but they’d put up with him to get their agenda passed. He wants the impression that he’s at war with both parties, because that’s what gets his “mad as hell” supporters excited. I can’t see how it works to get him enough votes to win the election, but I’m not sure any other strategy is better.

    Ryan, on the other hand, needs Trump’s voters. Maybe his own seat is safe, but he needs them to hold the House majority. Ryan’s greatest nightmare has to be Trump voters en masse deciding to vote for Trump and no other Republicans in order to stick it to the establishment. We can debate whether that’s rational or not, but a lot of them would do it just to “send a message,” or because their only loyalty is to the bright orange strongman. So Ryan’s in the tricky position of trying to denounce Trump’s actions to keep it from seeming like the GOP as a whole endorses sexual assault, while also not pissing off Trump’s devotees. I don’t really have pity for Ryan. He’s every bit the con artist Trump is; he just is a bit slicker about it. But I can’t help but have sympathy for what has to be the hardest job in Washington: herding the radicals in the House Republican caucus.

    • I think this is exactly right. Politicians have friends across the aisle and people they loathe on their side. Grover Norquist has liberal political friends! They only time relationships matter at all is when trying to convince a politician to do something they don’t see as in their own interest. Since Trump’s supposed “policies” are mostly shared goals of every other Republican, they’d work with him just fine.

      On Ryan’s other conservative views, thanks for the info, I didn’t know that. It doesn’t surprise me, though! I think we’d be hard pressed to find a single GOPer who isn’t an extremist on at least one issue. And the bar keeps raising. GOP voters are increasingly like super-picky phone buyers: sure, it’s waterproof and has a great camera and the most memory, but I don’t like the screen size. These days, one extremist position is hardly enough. The list of crazy positions they have to support gets ever longer.

      I suspect part of that is due to the nature of modern conservatism; it can never be wrong. Pretty much every myth perpetuated during the Reagan era is still held as gospel truth today. And many more have been added. I was listening to the radio with a liberal friend today and when the radio mentioned that the deficit has fallen under Obama, my friend was surprised. Not shocked, she believed it, and considers Obama a highly competent, intelligent centrist President. Just surprised. Because Democrats always blow up the deficit, don’t they? And once the myth takes hold, it’s difficult to erase. And the right is carefully field-testing and then introducing with lockstep precision new ones all the time.

      I wonder if Ryan’s worried about a palace coup. He can be ousted just like Boehner. If Dems take the presidency and Senate, he’ll be the biggest profile GOPer in the land, and an easy target for angry losers. Maybe his anti-abortion bonafides can help him there, as the first big fight of a new administration is going to be that Supreme Court battle.

    • I think that analysis is spot on. I wish I had been as clear in the article. I would add that even assuming (still a very good assumption) that the Republicans keep the house, he’s in danger of losing his speakership. The only thing likely to stop that is that no one else wants the job. (Also a very good assumption!)

      I also think that the establishment abandoning Trump helps him when he loses, “I would have won if I hadn’t been stabbed in the back!”

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