An unexpected yet welcome one-two punch on former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s legacy just gave it the treatment it deserves. The first punch was from the Washington Post, courtesy of its review of the upcoming book American Carnage by Politico Magazine Chief Political Correspondent Tim Alberta, which exposes top Republicans, including Ryan, as being highly critical of Trump despite not doing much to contain him. According to the book, Ryan was particularly bothered by the fact that Trump “didn’t know anything about government.” Although Ryan felt “I gotta have a relationship with this guy to help him get his mind right,” he proved to be a feckless wimp.
Ryan and Trump were both in office as Republicans. Although that made certain things easier for their relationship, Ryan’s loyalties and priorities as Speaker were still different than Trump’s. Unlike Trump, Ryan needed to promote the House as a respected part of a separate branch of government. Ryan also needed to stand up for America, democracy, and the rule of law as Trump would attack them, and he needed to help steer his party in the right direction when he believed Trump was pulling it off course.
Instead of doing all this, as the book details, Ryan would grimace and sometimes even laugh privately but fail to stand up to Trump in any meaningful way. Instead of ceding the speakership to someone with a spine, Ryan stuck it out for two years, letting Trump walk all over him and the country. When Ryan finally left Congress, it was for selfish, not patriotic, reasons. According to the author, Ryan saw his departure as an “escape hatch” from having to deal with Trump, finally unable to “stand the idea of another two years with the president.”
The second punch came from Trump through a late-night Twitter rant. Not pleased by what the Post reported about Ryan’s comments in Alberta’s book, Trump slammed Ryan as a “failed V.P. candidate & former Speaker of the House” with an “atrocious” record of achievement who “ultimately became a long running lame duck failure, leaving his Party in the lurch both as a fundraiser & leader” and who “had the Majority & blew it away with his poor leadership and bad timing.”
Ryan’s retirement from Congress was long overdue, and it came about only with the goal of maintaining his own sanity. Although Ryan claims in the book that he “helped [Trump] make much better decisions,” the record shows that Ryan failed to offer powerful pushback to this demagogue, allowing Trump to harm our country and make a mockery of our political system. Although Ryan is certainly not the monster that Trump is, he is not above reproach for the shamefully passive role he played. As Ryan and Trump now tear each other down, all that can be said is that these two disgraceful Republican numbnuts deserve each other.