To say House Speaker Paul Ryan is stuck between a rock and a hard spot is an understatement. He’s stuck between President Donald Trump’s rabid base and a hostile news media who loath conservatives, especially a conservative who’s trying to work with this president.
During Ryan’s CNN Town Hall, he was asked about Trump’s response to Charlottesville. Ryan responded by saying that felt the president had a good response on Monday, but “he messed up in his comments on Tuesday when it sounded like moral equivocation, or at the very least moral ambiguity when we need extreme moral clarity.”
Ryan went on to say, in an answer to a question from former Senator Russ Feingold’s sister, Rabbi Dena Feingold, that he opposed censuring Trump, saying, “If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, into some bickering against each other and demean it down into some political food fight, what good does that do to unify this country?” Ryan said, adding that it would be the “worst thing we could do.”
For the rest of the town hall Ryan took questions as he laid out the Republican’s agenda on health care, taxation, welfare reform, Afghanistan, and a host of other issues.
Many conservatives didn’t seem to notice.
Following the town hall, Laura Ingraham criticized the speaker in a tweet, “Tonight @SpeakerRyan trashed Trump speech on Tues instead of advancing the Republican agenda.”
Tonight @SpeakerRyan trashed Trump speech on Tues instead of advancing the Republican agenda.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 22, 2017
Pro Trump talker Mark Belling took a swipe at Ryan on his WISN-AM program on Wednesday, saying that Ryan answers too many questions about Trump while trying to be liked by the media. Over on MSNBC, #NeverTrump conservative Charlie Sykes claims that Ryan “has made a Faustian bargain” with Trump.
Since becoming Speaker of the House in October 2015 (the youngest Speaker since James G. Blaine in 1869) Paul Ryan has become a lightning rod of criticism from all sides. I expect it from the left; I’ve been disappointed by it from the right. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Laura Ingraham, have all criticized Ryan for not supporting Trump enough. He’s a sellout, a traitor, and the establishment’s hack working to undermine Trump. Hannity even tried to convince the Freedom Caucus to hold out for Ryan’s removal as Speaker!
Why? What has Ryan done to deserve such hate from the right?
In 2012, Limbaugh could barely contain his joy when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney named Ryan to the ticket, saying, “There’s an energy, there’s an expectation, there’s a… I don’t quite know how to characterize it. There’s a feeling of excitement that’s resulted from this pick,” el Rushbo gushed, ”Then after I thought about it, it all made sense. The Tea Party. It’s finally acknowledging that one of us is now part of the campaign and is gonna be an important part of the campaign, is gonna be an important part of governance.”
Ryan, he added, “may well be the last Boy Scout.”
Conservatives across America where rightfully thrilled with Ryan’s selection for VP. After all, for more than a decade Ryan has been the intellectual leader of the conservative movement. With his “Path to Prosperity,” Ryan led the fight, mostly by himself, for serious entitlement reform, tax reform, and reforming anti-poverty programs. In fact, in 2012, Nate Silver rated Ryan as the “most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900.”
In 2015, Ryan was elected House Speaker, against his better judgment, because he was the only member of Congress who could unify the “Establishment” wing and the “TEA Party/Freedom Caucus” wing.
And he’s been quite successful.
Ryan had an on again off again relationship with Trump during the campaign, and famously disinvited Trump to a rally here in Wisconsin the day after the Access Hollywood tape dropped. He then barnstormed Wisconsin with Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ron Johnson urging people to vote a straight Republican Ticket. “From Donald Trump to Dan Feyen!” he yelled at a stop in Fond du Lac the Sunday before the election.
Ryan’s primary job as speaker was to maintain a Republican majority, which he did. Republicans won 241 seats with a popular vote victory of more than a million votes.
As House Speaker for the 115th Congress, Ryan can point to the fact that his House of Representatives have passed the most bills in the first 100 days of any congress! These are good conservative bills that include: repealing much of Dodd-Frank, funding for a border fence, the largest increase for border security technologies and infrastructure improvement in more than a decade, more resources for ICE, cracking down on sanctuary cities, passed Kate’s Law to enhance penalties for deported felons who return. Congress voted to repeal an Obama administration rule that forced states to give Title X funding to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. Congress also passed bills to increase domestic energy production, to streamline cross-border energy pipelines, to end human trafficking and fight the opioid epidemic.
Ryan’s House of Representatives also passed legislation to increase the size of our military to adequately meet our needs for national security, and the House passed landmark Veterans Administration Reform to give the VA Secretary the ability to fire employees who are failing our veterans.
The House has passed legislation to allow for drug testing before receiving unemployment, regulatory relief, and even passed a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Going into September, it’s Ryan who’s leading the fight for tax reform.
Sadly, as we go into the fall session of Congress, I’m more pessimistic than ever about the chances of Speaker Ryan’s long awaited opportunity for tax reform. Ryan believes tax reform will be easier because Republicans will only need 50 votes in the U.S. Senate to pass tax reform, but Republicans couldn’t even get 50 votes to repeal ObamaCare, and who knows what the Freedom Caucus will hold out for?
And has the president led on this issue?
He’s spending August attacking Republican Senators. Trump has an ongoing war with several GOP senators including: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Ben Sasse and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. And just for good measure he threw Ryan’s name into a tweet about the debt ceiling.
Now don’t get me wrong here. Some of these senators deserve criticisms, and Trump has a right and a good reason to be frustrated. However, attacking senators of your own party is not how you get legislation through.
For all the mess and dysfunction that is the “Washington Swamp,” and for all the frustration many of us have with the Republicans inability to get things done, the problem is not Ryan.
In the end, Ryan is doing the work necessary to Make America Great Again. The national talkers sold out Conservative principals for a ratings boom provided by a brash reality TV star who make outlandish promises. “All you have to do is call 1-800-282-2882 and ‘Mexico will pay for the wall!’”
Ryan has a near impossible job: he’s dealing with a fractured caucus, a razor thin senate majority full of conflicting egos, and a president with an approval rating in the mid 30’s who too often steps on his own good news while fighting with his own party.
Yes, the Republican Party is a mess, but Ryan is the answer, not the problem.