If Ryan Speaks Up, Will the Party Listen?

The debate over the future of the GOP is putting former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) back into the spotlight. Ryan shared the stage with embattled Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) on Monday at a donors conference for the American Enterprise Institute. Cheney, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, is under pressure to be silent about the loss of the 2020 presidential election by former President Donald Trump and the former president’s role in fomenting the violence at the Capitol on January 6.

Despite another possible vote to oust her from leadership, Cheney remains defiant in her defense of the truth. From The Hill:

“We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy,” Cheney reportedly said at a retreat in Georgia on Monday for the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, according to CNN, citing two people in the room.

“We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed,” Cheney added.

Ryan’s reaction was not reported but CNN commentator Oliver Darcy asked when the former Speaker, currently a board member of Fox News, would speak out against the network continuing to promote the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen and the “whitewashing” of the January 6 violent attempt to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. It’s a good question.

It’s a point that a voice more familiar to Ryan, Bulwark editor at large and former WTMJ talk show host Charlie Sykes, raised in an “open letter” op-ed that appeared in Politico:

None of the calculations that underlay your bargain with the Trump presidency apply any longer. Once you left Congress, you were no longer responsible for keeping a Trumpian caucus in line or in power, or, as you told Alberta, “to help the institution survive.” 

But your silence then meant you had to watch the GOP transform itself into the image of the Former Guy; a party that, in your own words has become “isolationist, protectionist, and kind of semi-xenophobic, anti-immigrant.” Since then, the GOP has gotten worse—more divorced from reality, hostile to democratic norms, and willing to dabble in ugly conspiracy theories and noxious white nationalist narratives.

Sykes continues by pointing directly to Ryan’s role with Fox:

Paul, your position right now is unique. You are not just the former vice-presidential nominee of your party and the former speaker of the House. You sit on the board of directors of the media company that is shaping and distorting the future of the movement to which you have given your life. It is spreading vicious racist tropes. 

Just this week Rep. Liz Cheney told you, “We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy.” But 70 percent of Republicans now believe that Big Lie. You know they didn’t get that from NPR.

Of course, the problem with Ryan speaking up is, who would listen?

The Murdoch family? As Sykes himself points out, they’re publicly backing Fox host Tucker Carlson despite his racist rhetoric. Over at the New York Post, they have an op-ed editor that has dreams of China ruling the world. At the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper actually ran an editorial defending the bizarre theory of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that a warning last year of foreign influence over the 2020 election was a set up to embarrass him sometime this year or next year.

Would the Republican base listen? Ryan was once the most popular Republican in Wisconsin. Mention his name now and you’re likely to hear the same booing that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) heard at a Republican convention in his state. The pair, tied together by the presidential campaign of 2012, are now pariahs within the party they once led because they dared to criticize Trump, the violence of January 6, and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Republican leaders? Except for Cheney and a handful of others, they’re all in on supporting false claims of election fraud, questioning the election results, downplaying the riot of January 6, and even excusing the worst tactics to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The party now has embraced a crackpot theory of “replacement” by immigration that once could only be found in an Ann Coulter book and white supremacist websites.

This is the party that Ryan once led, but could never lead again. He has nothing to lose politically by speaking out. Whatever personal cost there might be, including possibly losing his position on the board of Fox, there is no political future in jeopardy. So Sykes is right in that sense, why not speak out now? Especially now?

Because there is one reward for speaking out: restoration of his conscience. Whatever the cost, to put it terms Ryan would understand, what does he profit with his silence if he keeps a seat on the board and the money that goes with it if he loses his soul? His reputation? His sense of personal responsibility? His legacy?

To quote one of Sykes’ favorite films, “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” Or for Fox News?

And if Ryan speaks out now, how many more will join him? Maybe just a few more this time. And then a few more the next time. With each outrage by the Republican Party and its “conservative” media enablers, perhaps enough of us will speak out to bring the party back to being a responsible constitutional party again.

But with or without Ryan, we must go forward to restore the party of ideas he once led, one that actually supports democracy and the rule of law. A party that rejects baseless conspiracy theories, paranoia, racism, and blind fealty to one person. We can have a party of limited government with conservative values. America deserves at least one.