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Paul Ryan has slithered back onto the American political stage. Does he come bearing bold new ideas for the GOP of the future? Does he come bearing sick workout tips?
Oh come on. Of course not. Ryan is back to trash Donald Trump.
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Thursday that former President Trump is a “proven loser” after a string of Republican election losses in recent years.
“He’s fading fast,” Ryan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday. “He is a proven loser. He cost us the House in ’18, he cost us the White House in ’20, he cost us the Senate again and again.”
Ryan said he does not believe Trump will get the party nomination as Republicans begin to focus more on issues like fiscal responsibility and less on personalities.
“I think we are moving past Trump,” he added. “I really think that’s the case. I can’t imagine him getting the nomination, frankly.”
… Ryan also said the chaotic House Speakership election, despite requiring multiple ballots for the first time in decades, demonstrated that Republicans are ready to return to being the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility. [The Hill]
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One can understand Ryan’s enthusiasm to see the Donald gone. He’s wanted him gone from the very beginning. All the way back in 2015, shortly after Trump had praised his selection as Speaker of the House, Ryan waded into the GOP nomination fight to trash him for his proposed ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States.
“Normally, I do not comment on what’s going on in the presidential election. I will take an exception today,” Ryan said on Dec. 8, as a firestorm rose regarding Trump’s crude extremism.
“This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for. And, more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for,” Ryan told a Capitol Hill news conference. “Not only are there many Muslims serving in our armed forces dying for this country, there are Muslims serving right here in the House working every day to uphold and to defend the Constitution.” [Source]
In 2016, Ryan had encouraged Republicans to abandon Trump in the days after the Access Hollywood tape.
On Oct. 10, 2016, three days after the tape was released, Ryan told all House republicans on a “rare” conference call that they no longer needed to remain loyal to the party’s candidate, Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer claim in A Hill to Die On. “Ryan’s message on the call was blunt,” the pair reportedly write. “Republicans should feel free to abandon Trump.” “I am not going to defend Donald Trump,” the GOP leader reportedly added. “Not now, not in the future.” [Daily Beast]
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When Ryan prematurely quit Congress at just 48 years old, he was almost certainly driven by loathing of Trump. And so Ryan has been fuming more or less ever since, begging the country in 2021, and 2022, and now 2023 to please, please ditch Trump for good and return to Real Conservatism ™.
But is Ryan right?
LOL, no. Sadly, it appears that after four years, we’ve reached the point where people may have forgotten why Paul Ryan’s version of the GOP caused so much disappointment that it ignited the Donald Trump revolution. And no, this isn’t just about Paul Ryan fibbing about his marathon times, though that’s pretty funny.
Paul Ryan is the avatar of a failed era of the GOP. The 2009-2015 GOP was a party with a losing presidential coalition, unpopular signature issues, and a crippling lack of coolness, sure. But most of all, the Ryan-era GOP was failing because it was psychologically defeated. It was a party beholden to moral imperialism of the left, incapable of articulating or pursuing its own values. As such, it was conquered before any election was even held.
Ryan’s entire career was practically a hopium psy-op inflicted by GOP elites on themselves as they tried to mentally recover from the colossal disaster of George W. Bush’s presidency. It’s easy to forget today, since the press is so eager to rehabilitate Bush himself, but Bush’s presidency was arguably the low point for any U.S. political party since World War 2. The week of the 2008 election, his approval sat at 28 percent. His mismanagement of Iraq, the economy, and basically everything else dragged the GOP down to just 178 House seats and a mere 40 senators.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, had Barack Obama, and for a brief moment, Obama was really cool. The GOP needed a cool, young, smart guy to hit back, was the thought.
And so America got Paul Ryan. As Jonathan Chait (of all people) summed things up in the spring of 2012:
The Paul Ryan that has been introduced to America is a figure of cinematic rectitude—a Jimmy Stewart character, but brainier. “Through a combination of hard work, good timing, and possibly suicidal guts,” wrote Time last December, “the Wisconsin Republican managed to harness his party to a dramatic plan for dealing with America’s rapidly rising public debt.” He is America’s neighborhood accountant, a man devoted to the task of restoring our fiscal health, whatever slings and arrows may come his way. Last year, a consortium of nonpartisan anti-deficit groups created a “Fiscy Award” (for “promoting fiscal responsibility and government accountability”) and bestowed one upon Ryan—a laying of hands sanctifying his good standing by the good-government, let’s-all-stop-fighting-and-fix-this crowd. [NY Mag]
That really was Paul Ryan’s reputation, even when he was being praised: Paul Ryan was the man with a boring focus on fixing the budget deficit. In 2011, when Ryan delivered the GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union, NPR summed him up thusly:
By choosing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver the official response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, the Republicans are sending the nation two messages about their priorities: Undo much of what Obama has done, but undo it in a civil way.
In his seventh term, Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. The man loves numbers so much, he has crafted his own plan to deal with the country’s economic crisis: A Roadmap for America’s Future.
Since Congress returned in early January, Ryan has been a ringmaster of the Republicans’ rush to repeal Obama’s health care legislation. Together with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Ryan relentlessly preaches deficit reduction and fiscal conservatism. [NPR]
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Civility and fiscal conservatism. That was Paul Ryan. That Roadmap for America’s Future was 99 pages long, which made it wonky and therefore good. The roadmap was focused entirely on reforming Medicare and Social Security to be viable long-term, while also dramatically overhauling and simplifying America’s tax code. Incidentally, Ryan’s own math for the plan was completely handwaved, and its entitlement reforms were so obviously suicidal they never came close to happening — in the words of City Journal, they were all political pain, no political gain.
Ironically, Paul Ryan’s proposed cuts to Social Security proved vastly less popular than Trump’s supposedly controversial Muslim ban. Polling varies, but approximately six percent of the American population supports cutting social security, while Trump’s original proposal to ban all non-citizen Muslims from the United States enjoyed a majority of fifty one percent support!
This perhaps surprising result underscores the important distinction between what is centrist and what is mainstream. The latter refers to positions the regime controlled media deems acceptable, the former refers to what most ordinary Americans actually deem reasonable.
The doomed Ryan roadmap was therefore, to say the least, a hundred page testament to political masochism… or political cuckoldry. Pick your metaphor, really.
Those were Ryan’s signature issues. On foreign policy, Ryan tacitly endorsed Obama’s disastrous intervention in Libya, only nitpicking the exact manner of the mission’s execution. In 2021, Ryan predictably complained that it was a “bad decision” to completely pull out of Afghanistan and end America’s longest and most useless war.
On immigration, the marathon man is substantially worse.
All the way back in 1995, at the tender age of 25, Paul Ryan became legislative director for then-Representative Sam Brownback. The job came at an important time: The 104th Congress marked the last time that major cuts to legal and illegal immigration were on the table, and came close to passing the U.S. Congress.
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The reason those cuts did not pass, it turns out, was substantially due to Ryan the Boy Wonder.
With the supposedly pro-immigration GOP House leaders Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey remaining pathetically silent, Swartz had turned to two freshmen – Sam Brownback of Kansas and Dick Chrysler of Michigan – to be their Republican champions. Along with Democrat Howard Berman, Brownback and Chrysler issued a series of highly influential, deeply devastating “Dear Colleague” letters educating their peers about the hazards of Smith’s bill. The letters were mainly the work of Cato’s Anderson and Paul Ryan, Brownback’s legislative director, whose ties to the pro-immigration mafia ran deep. A protégé of Conda and an ally of Swartz, Ryan was the staffer who had aided Jack Kemp and William Bennett in their crusade against Proposition 187.
“Smith was getting a free ride because he knew immigration law so much better than most of the other members,” Ryan says, noting that Smith even claimed that his bill would not “significantly reduce” legal immigration, when in fact its cuts were the deepest in 70 years. “Once people learned what was actually in the bill, we were able to peel them off, one by one.” [Wired]
As a member of Congress, Ryan endorsed an amnesty bill crafted by then-Rep. Jeff Flake and endorsed in the Senate by John McCain and Ted Kennedy.
By 2013, Ryan was traveling around Chicago-area churches with liberal Democrat Luis Gutierrez, listening to mariachi bands and speaking about how great immigration was.
Ryan’s trip here Monday alongside Gutierrez — where they were greeted at a church by mariachi music — showed just how far Ryan’s willing to go to push for reform.
Appearing at the Erie Neighborhood House and a City Club of Chicago lunch with the Democrat, Ryan forcefully pushed back on conservatives like former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who think opening the gates to legalizing undocumented immigrants will plunge the nation into further fiscal ruin.
“If we have a modern immigration system that works, then what we will see is better economic growth and more tax revenues in totality at the end of the day,” Ryan said, adding that border security will cost money. “And I think that’s the holistic view we have to take a look at when we’re measuring the cost of this bill.” [Politico]
That is Paul Ryan in a nutshell: He crafted an identity around slashing Medicare and taxes for the rich at the same time, and when that didn’t carry him to the vice presidency, he decided it was because he wasn’t sufficiently loving toward immigrants.
Ryan himself represents a particular strand of “conservative” thought, popular in D.C., that essentially goes like this: The GOP could be hugely successful as the party of “fiscal responsibility,” and is simply held back by people thinking the party is racist or too pale or whatever. So just embrace mass immigration and modern DEI rhetoric, cut cash flows toward conservative constituencies, and pile up the wins!
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Paul Ryan’s entire status as a Republican wunderkind is rooted in a bid to keep Americans on the GOP reservation: Stay focused on nitpicking U.S. spending priorities, avoid any comprehensive critique of the Globalist American Empire and its core values. And don’t you ever dare to be rude.
In reality, of course, it is Ryan’s political priorities that are not popular at all. Feel free to check the polling: Social Security is popular. Changing it is extremely not popular. The most popular way to “fix” Social Security is simply to raise taxes, rather than modify benefits. Are those good ideas? Maybe not. But that’s how the public thinks, and politics is about engaging with the public. If you’re going to mess with Medicare or Social Security, you had better have some other appeal to the voters. What props the Republican Party up electorally isn’t fiscal conservatism. It’s that the GOP is, essentially, the only sizable institution in America even nominally favorable towards the country’s legacy population and legacy values. In 2016, Donald Trump steamrolled the entire Ryan faction and won the presidency with the unthinkable strategy of appealing to the GOP’s natural base, instead of seeing them as an embarrassment whose replacement is well-deserved.
Trump’s platform famously included promises to actually secure the border, end useless wars, and stop starting new ones. But an underrated aspect of Trump’s appeal was that he was a GOP candidate who didn’t make everyone paranoid that he was plotting to cut their Medicare and Social Security. And even now, Trump understands the importance of reassuring the public:
NEW VIDEO: President Trump will always protect Medicare and Social Security. pic.twitter.com/NvjvNuR3zO
— Trump War Room (@TrumpWarRoom) January 20, 2023
That is why Paul Ryan was a political failure, and why his vision of the Republican Party isn’t coming back. Paul Ryan’s GOP uses “decency” as a cover for being feeble and easily controlled, and as an excuse to prioritize unpopular losing issues. It uses “fiscal responsibility” as a rallying cry to push for ignoring immigration, and critical race theory, and transgender lunacy, and deep state surveillance, and so much more, as “divisive” issues or “distractions” that cause losses at the polls.
Yet even if Paul Ryan’s vision of the GOP is electorally dead, it continues to exert a zombie pull over the country and over conservatism. In March 2019, just after leaving the House, Ryan joined the board of Fox Corp, the parent company of Fox News. He is one of just six board members outside the Murdoch family, and one of just two with a substantial political background. And according to Vanity Fair, Ryan took the job for the express purpose to undermining the president he blames for stealing his party.
In recent months, Rupert’s oldest son has been holding strategy conversations with Fox executives and anchors about how Fox News should prepare for life after Trump. Among the powerful voices advising Lachlan that Fox should decisively break with the president is former House speaker Paul Ryan, who joined the Fox board in March. “Paul is embarrassed about Trump and now he has the power to do something about it,” an executive who’s spoken with Ryan told me. [Vanity Fair]
“Do something” is deliberately vague, but it’s easy to imagine the ramifications. Might Ryan’s presence at Fox play at least some role in the network’s de facto blackout of Trump and his new presidential run? Could it be fueling the “blame Trump” narrative that Fox has favored to explain the midterm results?
If it does, then Fox and conservatives are being set up for a double-dip of disappointment from Paul Ryan.
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When do you ever remember Paul Ryan doing something that inspired you? What is your favorite piece of rhetoric from Paul Ryan? Has he ever made you laugh, besides at him? Merely asking the question does everything necessary to show the mismatch between the Ryan GOP and the Trump GOP.
But at least he knows how to dab.
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