Since leaving Congress this past January, Paul Ryan has generally stayed away from the news cycle. The former Speaker of the House joined the Board of Directors at the FOX Corporation in March, and joined the University of Notre Dame’s faculty as a professor in April, but he has avoided the public spotlight as much as a former House Speaker can. However, last week, excerpts from Tim Alberta of POLITICO’s book, American Carnage, showed Ryan criticizing Trump, rekindling their feud.
The Associated Press reported that Ryan said, “I’m telling you, he didn’t know anything about government. I wanted to scold him all the time. What I learned as I went on, to scratch that itch, I had to do it in private. So, I did it in private all the time. And he actually ended up kind of appreciating it.” He followed up by saying, “Those of us around him really helped to stop him from making bad decisions. All the time. We helped him make much better decisions, which were contrary to kind of what his knee-jerk reaction was. Now I think he’s making some of these knee-jerk reactions.”
It’s not news that Ryan and Trump’s relationship is spotty. Ryan hesitantly endorsed Trump in 2016, and repeatedly criticized some of his proposals and statements, although not retracting his endorsement until the Access Hollywood tapes were leaked in October. Ryan’s latest comments and Trump’s latest attacks on Ryan reignited a fire that had publicly subsided during between Trump’s first two years as president.
Paul Ryan is generally correct about Trump. Going off these excerpts alone, Ryan knew firsthand how Trump was—stubborn to accept change or disagreement, not completely aware of governmental procedures, often reckless in decision-making, and an executive who could be dangerous without a system of Checks and Balances to counter his power. Trump’s recklessness can be seen in his abrupt decision to withdraw troops from Syria, his stubborn attitude is evident in his claim that “I alone can fix it” at the Republican National Convention in 2016, and his lack of knowledge in government is shown in his desire to fire Fed. Chair Jerome Powell.
However, Paul Ryan’s comments might actually mean something if he fulfilled his role as the Speaker of the House and protected our government’s system of Checks and Balances. While Ryan “disavowed” many of Trump’s comments and proposals during the 2016 election cycle and “criticized” his character, what did Ryan actually do to stop Trump when needed? As the Speaker of the House, Ryan was an important Republican figure who had to cooperate with Trump on passing the Party’s legislative agenda, but that isn’t an excuse to completely suck up to him.
If Ryan’s claims to be a “small government conservative” held any weight, he would’ve used his important political role to check the Trump Administration’s power, work to retake Congress’ powers ceded to the Executive Branch, and opposed massive federal spending. But as with every administration since FDR, the Executive Branch continues to grow in power while the other two branches of government continue to lose their importance. Ryan did little-to-nothing to halt the trend.
But even as the speaker before Trump became president, Ryan enabled and normalized Trump’s firebrand and populist style of politics. Constantly excusing Trump’s racism and nonsensical proposals because he had “more in common on the policy issues of the day with Trump” may have helped Trump win in 2016, but it undermined our institutions and showed that Ryan cared more about the Party than he did about decency and morality.
This contributed to an already-polarized political environment spiraling further down party lines and moral decadence. I’m not arguing that he should’ve endorsed Clinton or worked for Trump’s impeachment during his time as Speaker, but he shouldn’t have waited until the Access Hollywood tapes to revoke his endorsement of Trump, nor should he have stayed silent on Trump’s dangerous traits.
Ryan doesn’t bear sole responsibility for the normalization of Trump’s grotesque and experimental politics. No one individual is to blame, but the corruption of our institutions (mainly Congress as a whole and the Republican Party) and the erosion of their integrity are the greatest factors at hand. As a major political actor and the head of a crucial institution, Ryan failed in his duties to deliver a conservative agenda and only contributed to this toxic political environment that grows harsher each week.
Ryan may be correct about Trump, but if he actually did something to thwart Trump’s rise, his words might be more meaningful.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.