I was on the treadmill (ugh!) watching the news, when it was announced that Paul Ryan would not seek re-election.
Virtually all the talking heads, including former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, prefaced their reactions by noting that Ryan was a “policy wonk” who understood the economy.
As Paul Krugman (whose Nobel Prize was in economics) has repeatedly pointed out, Ryan is an ideologue. A genuine policy wonk would adjust his economic prescriptions in the face of evidence they didn’t work; Ryan’s tax “reform” was a bigger version of the policies that have proved so disastrous in Kansas and Oklahoma. Rather than learn from those lessons, he doubled down. (It reminded me of the old communist sympathizers who explained that a communist system really would work–that Stalin just hadn’t done it right.)
It’s possible, of course, that Ryan isn’t a “true believer”–that his his tax “reform” was a return on his donors’ investment, and he’s not sticking around to suffer what he realizes will be the political consequences.
A couple of commentators reported that–despite all indications that his spine had simply been removed–behind the scenes, Ryan was critical of Trump and had been a restraining influence on our dangerous President. Color me skeptical; however, the remainder of Ryan’s term will offer an ideal test of that thesis. Since Ryan won’t be running again, he’s free to add his voice to those of the other GOP Trump critics (none of whom are running again).
If I were a betting woman, I wouldn’t risk my money on the likelihood of a Ryan eruption of moral outrage or defense of the rule of law.
In all fairness, Ryan didn’t want the job as Speaker, and for good reason. Thanks to the very successful national Republican gerrymander in 2011, the party won seats well in excess of its votes, but a significant number of those elected from districts that had been designed to be deep red were extremists determined to hew to a Tea Party/White Nationalist vision of America (and not so incidentally, intent upon forestalling primary challenges by candidates even farther to the right.) Estimates are that there are some 80+ members of the GOP’s “lunatic caucus” –and they feel no need to listen to the party’s leadership, which they scorn as the “establishment.” Herding cats would be simple by comparison.
Those of us who detest Trump and the feckless Republicans in Congress who have utterly failed to constrain him are tempted to cheer Ryan’s announcement. And I am certainly encouraged by its implications; without Ryan (not to mention the other 26+/- Republicans heading for the door) , it will be even more difficult for the GOP to hang on to its majority.
But there are six months between now and November, and Trump is increasingly unhinged. As Mueller’s investigation gets closer, as the legal and ethical lapses of his cabinet and cronies become public, and international events he clearly doesn’t understand pressure him to make decisions he is ill-equipped to make, he increasingly resembles a cornered animal.
A rational man would reach out to knowledgable people for advice, but Trump is not a rational man. He’s threatening to bomb Syria, to nullify the Iran accord, to start a trade war with China, and God knows what he’ll say or do when he meets with Kim Jong Un in North Korea.
As the rats desert his sinking ship, he’ll be perfectly willing to take us all down with him.