Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Paul Ryan's annus horribilis

Paul Ryan's annus horribilis

A Republican in favour of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? No wonder his poll numbers are plummeting. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is a free trader who not so long ago was a fairly typical Republican, so much so he was Mitt Romney's choice for vice president in the 2012 race. The fact that Ryan is now tanking in the polls one month before he faces Republican voters in his home state of Wisconsin has reinforced the outcome of the GOP primary; voters are no longer keen on typical Republicans. 

This long read by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker does a great job of recounting how the Republican party leaders got it wrong when they thought they were righting the ship after Romney's surprising (to them) defeat four years ago. The party's self scrutiny didn't pick up anything wrong with the traditional GOP economic platform of lower taxes, free trade and less government. What was needed, the review concluded, was an immigration reform platform that would appeal to the growing Hispanic population. A bill was duly prepared to do just that, backed by the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and led by Paul Ryan. But the opposition from conservative Republicans was such that the bill was never put forward. Lizza concludes:

If there was a single moment when the Party of Paul Ryan began to turn into the Party of Donald Trump, it may have been July 10, 2013, the day House Republicans held a special meeting in the basement of the Capitol to debate whether they should take up immigration reform.

 Paul Ryan stood before one microphone and Tom Cotton, a thirty-six-year-old freshman congressman from Arkansas, stood before another. Ryan, who spoke first, argued for passing a version of the Senate bill, saying that reforming the immigration system would strengthen the economy, supplying U.S. companies with a steady number of immigrants to take jobs that other Americans didn’t want. Cotton, who is tall and scrawny and loves partisan combat, delivered an unexpectedly sharp rebuke. He told me that he condemned the Senate bill for giving priority to “the illegal immigrant population” over the plight of “natural-born citizens and naturalized citizens who are out of work” and warned his colleagues that Republican voters were against immigration reform.

On The Interpreter earlier this week Robert E Kelly wrote of the lasting impact the Trump campaign will have on the GOP, regardless of who is elected this year.

As post-Trump candidates pick-up Trumpist threads, expect his America First-ism, focus on allied free-riding, and hostility to trade deals to push the GOP away from its previous Reaganite internationalism. This year’s primary revealed the Reaganite GOP establishment as the emperor with no clothes; neither Democratic nor Republican voters actually want what the GOP in Washington is selling.

But in the more immediate future, we have the fascinating prospect of the Republican Convention to look forward to. Some 50,000 people (including 15,000 media) will converge on Cleveland in a week's time. There, the new emperor in the form of Donald Trump will be crowned and the old guard, led by Paul Ryan, will be forced to do the honours.

One shouldn't  underestimate the loathing Trump supporters have for Ryan. [fold]

One comment on the Convervative Treehouse (home to a 'rag-tag bunch of Conservative misfits') sums it up nicely:

Ryan is a snake with a gym membership. He must be crushed...not just ejected from office but humiliated down to his shorts.

And this is the party Ryan seeks to unify. Tricky.

Ryan famously held out from endorsing Trump until early June. Since then, he has continued to protest. First he described Trump's comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel as a textbook definition of racism. He enlarged upon that in this ABC interview saying Trump needed to clean up his campaign. A week ago, Ryan weighed into the controversy over what most took to be an anti-Semitic tweet that Trump retweeted and then deleted. Ryan said Trump has got to smarten up his use of social media. No doubt the Speaker was thrilled when Trump revived the matter, saying he wished it hadn't been pulled down.

You can't help thinking it is going to be a very long four months for Ryan until the vote for President ends the Trump campaign one way or another. And, despite his fall in the polls and Sarah Palin's promise to bring him down, most expect Ryan will be there every painful step of the way. As Tina Nguyen noted in Vanity Fair:

Since endorsing Donald Trump, Paul Ryan's weekly press briefings have become an agonizing exercise for the once principled House Speaker, who now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of regularly renouncing the billionaire’s latest offensive comment while defending the man himself.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

You may also be interested in