Wednesday, celebrating Donald Trump’s election, Paul Ryan said that Trump would lead a “unified Republican government.” He also said that Trump had earned a mandate. He didn’t mention that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote or that his own behavior throughout the election made him an awfully awkward ambassador for the whole “unified government” thing. In fact, Paul Ryan demonstrated that he can’t even manage to be a unified person.
Paul Ryan lacks courage and principle. Throughout the election season that is now mercifully over, Ryan worked again and again to avoid confronting the very real question of whether Trump should be our president. Recounting Ryan’s journey reveals him as a brazenly political actor, seeking always to protect himself rather than taking a meaningful stance that might risk his political footing.
...the Speaker of the House could not muster the courage to say that he could not support for president a man who thought his fame gave him a license to kiss and grab women without their consent.
Leading up to the convention, Paul Ryan cravenly withheld his endorsement of his party’s presumptive nominee. In so doing, Ryan did not say that he would not support him. He also did not say what Trump had to do to earn his support. Instead, he simply shared his angst about Trump’s positions with respect to the Muslim ban (remember – “until we can figure out what is going on”); the border wall with Mexico; and various horrifying Trump comments (including his comments about his size).
Speaker Ryan held back his support to preserve distance from the most uncomfortable parts of the Trump movement. Then, he endorsed him (prior to the convention) for no discernable reason other than to preserve his own role at the convention. Importantly, Ryan set no price for his support. He did not require Trump to back off his racist comments or terrifying proposals.
Although Ryan endorsed Trump, he did so quietly, in a newspaper article. And then he played a background role in the convention – never putting himself in a position where he might be filmed near the nominee. He continued to keep his physical distance but was forced to speak again upon the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in response to which Ryan cancelled what was to be his first joint appearance with Trump, saying that he was “sickened” by the tape. Sickened did not mean finished.
Ryan held to his endorsement; the speaker of the House could not manage to say that he could not support for president a man who thought his fame gave him a license to kiss and grab women without their consent. Put another way, Ryan maintained his quiet support for Trump even after he bragged about assaulting women, and even as women who claimed Trump assaulted them found the voice to tell their stories. At a time when his country demanded courage in the face of misogny, Speaker Ryan did not have the strength to answer the call.
At a time when his country demanded strength in the face of misogny, Speaker Ryan did not have the strength to answer the call.
Then, on the Saturday before the election, Ryan wrote a letter urging people to vote for Trump and for Republicans down the ballot. Again, Trump made no concession to earn Ryan’s amplified affection. This was his most direct effort to help Trump – at least until yesterday, when he tried to turn Trump’s electoral college win into a mandate.
Of course, now that Trump has won, Ryan needs to become his spokesperson. His spineless behavior during the campaign led to open speculation about whether he would be re-elected as speaker. That opportunity – to be speaker under a president who seems to have a less than deep interest in policy – is too good to miss.
And so Paul Ryan is, finally, Donald Trump’s man.