Abrupt res­ig­na­tion won’t save Ryan’s rep

The Record (Troy, NY) - - OPINION - Email Cyn­thia Tucker at cyn­thia@cyn­thiatucker.com.

If House Speaker Paul Ryan be­lieves he can still save his rep­u­ta­tion, he is sadly mis­taken. His­to­ri­ans -- and vot­ers -- will re­mem­ber him as one of the once-bright stars of the Repub­li­can Party (and there are sev­eral) who have been ir­repara­bly tar­nished by their as­so­ci­a­tion with Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump.

When Ryan made the sur­pris­ing an­nounce­ment that he will not seek re-elec­tion, Wash­ing­ton ob­servers noted that he is prob­a­bly tired of shep­herd­ing his frac­tious House ma­jor­ity. Ryan took the job re­luc­tantly af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor, John Boehner, gave up and left pol­i­tics. And his con­tentious House col­leagues have man­aged to ac­com­plish lit­tle un­der his lead­er­ship.

Still, Ryan’s an­nounce­ment doesn’t ob­scure the big mess he will leave be­hind. It merely calls more at­ten­tion to the col­lapse of a Repub­li­can Party that con­trols the House, the Se­nate and the White House. Among the most glar­ing signs of that col­lapse is the fail­ure of pow­er­ful Repub­li­cans to block Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump’s worst im­pulses.

As Ryan edges closer to the exit, the nation faces the prospect of a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis. Trump’s fre­quent Twit­ter out­bursts il­lu­mi­nate his out­rage over spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pos­si­bil­ity that his cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sian op­er­a­tives. Gov­erned by im­pulse, dis­dain­ful of gen­er­a­tions of po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion and ig­no­rant of con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments, the pres­i­dent has sug­gested that he is look­ing for a way to fire Mueller.

That would mark us as a nation no longer gov­erned by the rule of law and would trig­ger a dilemma worse than Richard Nixon’s Satur­day Night Mas­sacre. There were then, at least, Repub­li­cans who were will­ing to re­sist a power-mad pres­i­dent try­ing to fire the spe­cial coun­sel as­signed to in­ves­ti­gate him. There ap­pear to be none now. While Democrats have pressed for leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect Mueller’s job, lead­ing Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Ryan and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, have in­sisted that no such law is nec­es­sary.

Ryan has kept quiet as Trump has bashed im­mi­grants, though the Wis­con­sin na­tive is a long­time sup­porter of a freer im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. He has muted his crit­i­cism of Trump’s in­sis­tence on tar­iffs, though Ryan hails from the es­tab­lish­ment wing of the GOP, which has long en­dorsed free trade.

All of that is a long way from the Paul Ryan who was among Trump’s fore­most GOP crit­ics dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Back then, Ryan noted Trump’s ca­sual racism, his xeno­pho­bia and his shabby treat­ment of women. When Trump lashed out at a fed­eral judge of Mex­i­can her­itage, Ryan said, “Claim­ing a per­son can’t do their job be­cause of their race is sort of like the text­book def­i­ni­tion of a racist com­ment. I think that should be ab­so­lutely dis­avowed. It’s ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able.”

But once Trump was elected, Ryan placed his per­sonal con­vic­tions into a blind trust. He abased him­self by show­er­ing Trump with spec­tac­u­larly un­de­served praise, claim­ing that the former re­al­ity TV host has shown “ex­quis­ite pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship.” The House speaker sub­li­mated his moral and po­lit­i­cal con­cerns to his over­ar­ch­ing de­sire to cut taxes for the coun­try’s wealthy.

In­deed, that has been Ryan’s only ac­com­plish­ment. And it has shat­tered his im­age as a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive; the tax bill added a tril­lion dol­lars to the an­nual deficit. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice, the na­tional debt will likely be the same size as the nation’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct within 10 years.

Ryan claims that he fully in­tended to cut spend­ing by “re­form­ing en­ti­tle­ments” -- specif­i­cally So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care -- but that as­ser­tion only places another of his ob­ses­sions in stark relief. The Speaker is of­ten de­scribed as a de­vout Catholic, but his real re­li­gion is an un­spar­ing so­cial Dar­win­ism. Long a dis­ci­ple of Ayn Rand, the nov­el­ist who ide­al­ized cap­i­tal­ism and re­jected the con­cept of a so­cial safety net, Ryan seems to be­lieve that the less for­tu­nate just need to work harder and take care of them­selves.

Let’s hope Ryan meant it when he said that he wants to spend more time with his fam­ily. He won’t be missed on the po­lit­i­cal stage.

Cyn­thia Tucker As I See It

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