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Trump Killed Off the Myth of Paul Ryan

Columns and commentary from the "New York" and Daily Intelligencer political teams, plus breaking news from New York and around the world.
TODAY’S CHAT: Slouching Towards Janesville
Today’s Top Stories
Fanatic, Fraud, Factotum: The Rise and Fall of Paul Ryan
Requiem for the face and brain of the Republican Party.
By Jonathan Chait
Ryan’s Retirement Could Roil House Republicans
He may be stepping down in anticipation of electoral disaster. But win or lose, House conservatives will keep pushing their leadership to the right.
By Ed Kilgore
Bernie Sanders in the Deep South
Never mind reports of a swipe at Obama. Sanders found an audience of black voters receptive to his updated critique of class and race disparity.
By Briahna Joy Gray
Trump Uses Social Media to Announce Attack on Syria, Confess to Obstruction of Justice
Also insists his administration is “very calm and calculated.”
By Jonathan Chait
Will Trump Actually Fire Mueller, Rosenstein, or Sessions?
Trump reportedly tried to ax Mueller a second time in December, and he’s angry enough to oust all three — but that would only make things worse.
By Margaret Hartmann
Will Syrians Pay for Trump’s Anger at Investigators?
Maybe the U.S. should punish Syria for alleged chemical weapon attacks. But maybe the president considering that action should not be in a hate rage.
By Ed Kilgore
Paul Ryan Stepping Down Is the Only Good Thing He’s Done for Women
Many are not sad to see him go.
By Lisa Ryan
Elderly White Voters Are Starting to Turn on the GOP
In 2016, older, college-educated white voters favored a Republican Congress by ten points. Today, they support a Democratic one.
By Eric Levitz
Today’s 5 Best Quotes From Freaked-Out Trump Sources, Ranked
The raid on Michael Cohen produces the normal panic, chaos, and angry presidential tirades.
By Jonathan Chait
Chill Out on the Whole Mueller Getting Fired Thing, Republicans Say
There’s no indication Trump will get rid of him, except for the fact that he really, really wants to.
By Benjamin Hart
Slouching Towards Janesville
I’m your humble host and editor Ezekiel Kweku, and today I’m talking with three members of New York's politics team — Jonathan Chait, Ed Kilgore, and Eric Levitz — about the departure of Paul Ryan from the House.
Ezekiel:   What's the crystallizing moment of Paul Ryan's tenure in Congress?
Ed:   I’d say it was either the day the health-care bill finally finally cratered in the Senate, or the day Ryan realized “entitlement reform” was off the table for 2018, and maybe for a long time after that.
Eric:   It would be difficult to pick any single definitive moment. But feel like this tweet conveys much of what Ryan represents.
Ed:   It wasn’t technically “in Congress,” but Ryan standing up at the 2012 Republican National Convention to pose as the savior of Medicare was pretty typical. Of his dishonesty, anyway. As I recall, he even had his mother stand up there with him while he told his lies about Obama wanting to take away her Medicare benefits.
Eric:   Aye. As were his assurances that DACA recipients had nothing to worry about last year.
Jon:   I find the "moment" question so hard to answer, because Ryan is so robotically consistent, there is no arc.
Eric:   Ryan had the power to force a vote on protections for Dreamers — one that likely would have resulted in the passage of a bipartisan agreement between House Democrats and GOP moderates. But instead, he made an empty promise, and then neglected to use the powers at his disposal to defy the will of his party's xenophobic wing — even though he ostensibly had no cause to worry about his political future.
Ed:   I didn’t quite realize it until I wrote a piece on Ryan’s legacy today, but it’s interesting that he previewed the GOP trifecta agenda in October of 2016, like two days before the Access Hollywood video exploded and he was privately repudiating Trump. Must have felt some whiplash, despite his predictable ability to shuck and jive.
Ezekiel:   Ed, you called Ryan a "true believer," and Jon, you called him a "fanatic" in your pieces today. But all of you seem to think he's a charlatan — how do you reconcile those two things?
Ed:   Ends justify means for “true believers” and “fanatics.”
Jon:   He understands that his agenda is not publicly appealing and needs to conceal it.
Eric:   He doesn't believe what he says he believes. But he does act on what he believes. Which is to say: He doesn't believe in balanced budgets, or in helping America's poor discover the dignity of work; he does believe that the government has little right to usurp the economic power earned by private actors — and thus, that the role of conscientious political actors is to return as much of the power as possible to their hands. Or at least, his actions are consistent with that belief.
Ed:   I do have some questions about his “true beliefs,” though. Now that he’s heading home to “spend more time with [his] family,” maybe he can finally enlighten us a bit more about reconciling Randian objectivism with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Eric:   I thought this was a lovely point on Ryan's "spend more time with my family" line/the broader tension between "family values" conservatism and fiscal libertarianism.
Jon:   I don't think Ryan would ever think to universalize that desire. He just assumes it is a privilege he deserves.
Ed:   There’s no question other fanatics recognized their kinship with him. As it happens, the day after Romney announced Ryan as his running mate, I was at a big Christian-right confab in Iowa, just chock-full of crazy people, and they were ecstatic about the choice.
Jon:   I really, really wanted him to lose to the Ironstache, though. Would have been an incredible moment. Not that it was assured or anything. Ryan is such a class warrior, there would be a perfect symmetry in it.
Eric:   Indeed. That race will still be interesting — and if it does somehow become an Ironstache vs. (infamous white supremacist) Paul Nehlen race, one with considerable theatrical value.
Ed:   Maybe you should quietly organize a write-in campaign for Ryan, Jon, so he can still be defeated. Ryan handing the gavel to Pelosi, if that happens, will still be a pretty big moment.
Eric:   In recent weeks, while his candidacy still looked quixotic, Bryce started leaning even further left, announcing his support for abolishing ICE. An ironworker who unabashedly opposes xenophobia and racial injustice running against a dude who has called on border-patrol agents to mow down asylum seekers as they approach the United States would be a solid little referendum on the soul of America's heartland.
Ed:   “Soul of America’s heartland”? Are you auditioning for a gig with the Times, Eric?
Jon:   It sounds like a 1980s era commercial jingle.
Eric:   Have loose plans to pull a Talented Mr. Ripley on David Brooks.
Ed:   It’s morning in the heartland! All joking aside, I think we’re in agreement it would have been nice had Ryan been defenestrated by Ironstache. But we should take what we can get..
Eric:   Also, not inconceivable that he played a role in getting him out the door.
Ezekiel:   By giving him a race?
Ed:   Yeah, perhaps he didn’t want to be like Speaker Tom Foley, whose own defeat accompanied the loss of the House for his party in 1994.
Eric:   There was a poll in December from (the Democratic pollster) Global Strategy Group showing Ryan only up on Bryce by six points, despite the fact that 79 percent of voters had no idea who Bryce was. Possible that the need to fend off a competitive challenger might have been the last straw … though, would make a lot of sense for Ryan to collect his sure-to-be massive reward, rather than soldier on as Minority Leader.
Ezekiel:   Does Ryan leaving now tell us anything about the state of the party that we didn't already know?
Eric:   No.
Jon:   Well, they're in serious danger of losing the House. I don't think it tells us anything about the party's internal character.
Ed:   I’d say his failure at “entitlement reform,” which probably contributed to his retirement, is significant, if not new.
Eric:   Yeah. It does suggest Ryan's whole project is unsustainable (unless one stipulates that deficits don't matter). Hard to see how the GOP could ever get away with using a genuine fiscal crisis (high inflation/interest rates) to shred entitlements while preserving tax cuts for the rich.
Jon:   Right, it was never ever going to happen.
Jon:   Great question! My original theory was that Trump believes all Jews are good at these professions, but I have backed off that theory.
Eric:   I mean, they've got away with analogous shit on the state level, so far, but it does seem like the visibility of federal politics/singular popularity of Social Security and medicare make it a different ball game. Does seem like Ryan's departure — along with those of a host of other veteran Republicans — will leave the party with an even more robustly Trumpian caucus going forward.
Jon:   Will you miss Paul Ryan?
Ezekiel:   Depends on what fell beast replaces him.
Ed:   You know, I was kinda thinking of that as a serious question. There was a nice contrast between the “true believer” Ryan and McConnell, who doesn’t believe in anything other than power.
Jon:   I feel like I will miss Ryan in a way. We're of nearly the same age, started following politics around the same time, and came to think of the conflicts oriented around the same axis. I feel like I understood his worldview very well, even as I abhorred it. I hope eventually American politics moves beyond the fanatical conservative desire to slash the welfare state and progressive taxation that has dominated the last generation. And it's possible this era and its obsessions will come to seem strange one day. Hopefully, we will be looking back at it from a better place, because Ryan and his cause lost and had to give up.
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