Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Paul Ryan’s Losing Bet on Trump

He finally deserted The Donald, but is it too late to avoid damaging his own career?

By - Oct 11th, 2016 11:09 am
Paul Ryan and Donald Trump.

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump.

Yesterday Paul Ryan finally decided to distance himself from the ever-more toxic Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. “Ryan informed Republican lawmakers… that he would never again campaign alongside Mr. Trump and would dedicate himself instead to defending the party’s majority in Congress,” the New York Times reported.

The decision “dealt a hammer blow” to Trump’s presidential candidacy, “dashing any remaining semblance of party unity,” the story suggested. But has the decision come too late to save Ryan? Yes, Ryan will win reelection to his House seat in Wisconsin, but what of his other career ambitions, as a House Speaker looking to be the leading voice in his party and a likely candidate for president himself in 2020 or 2024? Ryan, often seen as the GOP’s golden boy, could be indelibly tarnished by his handling of Trump.

Ryan already faced a very tough job trying to handle the Tea Party conservatives in his caucus. His predecessor John Boehner wasn’t able to do it, and finally had to resign. Though Ryan was viewed far more favorably by those representatives, that may change in the wake of his decision to ditch Trump.

“The reaction from hard-liners was swift and angry,” the Times reported. “A stream of conservative lawmakers spoke up to urge their colleagues not to give up on Mr. Trump, and chided Mr. Ryan for surrendering prematurely in the presidential race.

“One member, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, attacked Republicans stepping away from Mr. Trump as ‘cowards,’ three lawmakers said. Another, Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, used graphic language to describe abortion and said allowing Mrs. Clinton into the White House would end with fetuses being destroyed ‘limb from limb.’”

Wisconsin Republican congressman Reid Ribble told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was surprised by the reaction to Ryan as “almost all of the rank-and-file members who spoke urged their colleagues to continue to support the nominee.”

At this point, nothing short of a miracle will save Trump’s candidacy. Republicans across the country are deserting him. But the white conservatives who make up much of the GOP base still fervently support Trump and are likely to be very angry at party members like Ryan who deserted him. That clearly includes many House Republicans, who might turn on Ryan after the election.

Ryan clearly had some misgivings in the first place about taking the job of House Speaker. It’s never been a stepping stone to the presidency. The job is about the nuts and bolts of crafting legislation, not about projecting the kind of grand vision we expect of presidential candidates. But the assignment has now become far more difficult, as Ryan will face many right-wing zealots bitter about Trump’s loss, and likely to distrust the House Speaker’s every utterance.

That distrust may also extend to many GOP primary voters, should Ryan run for president in 2020 or 2024. As this year’s primary proved, much of the GOP base is very sour on Washington-based Republican incumbents. And who is more of an insider than the House Speaker? Combine this with Ryan’s rejection of Trump, and he will have a lot to overcome with red-meat Republican voters.

And should Ryan somehow survive the daunting situation he will face as House Speaker, and should he later somehow succeed at winning the GOP presidential nomination, he will face challenges from the other side that could be even tougher. Namely the question of why Ryan stood by Trump for so long.

There has never been a major party candidate, not in more than two centuries of American electoral history, who has made more controversial and repulsive statements than Donald Trump. Yes, Ryan did criticize some of Trump’s salvos, but he was silent about many others and for months has supported Trump. Even now he is trying to walk a tightrope, and has indicated he hasn’t withdrawn his endorsement of Trump. That could leave Ryan, as a presidential candidate, facing a lot of tough questions and attack ads for his support of such an ugly demagogue.

Ryan clearly had misgivings about Trump from the very beginning, and resisted endorsing him after it was clear Trump had wrapped up the Republican nomination. Ryan was probably being lobbied by his fellow Wisconsinite, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who told the media he felt Ryan would eventually endorse Trump.

Priebus, as I’ve written, was clearly convinced Trump could expand the GOP and bring in new voters who were disengaged with the electoral process. More than likely he made that case to Ryan.

But there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of that happening. Instead, what Trump proved was that an awful lot of Republican voters were simply disengaged with their own party. They probably didn’t think the Iraq War was a good idea, didn’t want to see cuts in Social Security or Medicare or tax cuts for the wealthy, and probably wouldn’t support Ryan’s “road map” which called for wholesale cuts in entitlements and lower taxes for the upper class.

Ryan is constantly praised as the Man of Ideas though his solutions and just the basic math have never stood up to scrutiny.  And this vaunted policy guy has steadfastly refused repeated invitations to actually debate his ideas issued by his Democratic opponent Ryan Solen.

There is, in short, a kind of hollowness to Ryan’s ideas, just as the party itself feels hollowed out after Trump’s takeover. Ryan might have been able to lay low and avoid much comment on Trump had he not taken over the job of House Speaker. But by doing that he was forced to embrace the most demagogic candidate in U.S. history. Explaining that away will not be easy, even for someone as deft and charismatic as Paul Ryan.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

40 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Paul Ryan’s Losing Bet on Trump”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    Can we finally dispel with the myth that Ryan is a man of principle and solid moral standing? The Washington Post’s conservative Jennifer Rubin on Ryan:

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan can no longer claim even to be standing with his members for the sake of unity; dozens of them are already jumping ship. He stands as a pathetic, lonely and morally compromised figure. Having failed the test of character and leadership, it’s not clear what he can offer the party in the way of leadership after the election.”

  2. AG says:

    Vincent, why? Because hard liners on either side of the aisle say so?

  3. Casey says:

    Vincent- can you name 3 Republican members of the House that you would prefer over Ryan?

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Reid Ribble, Richard Hanna, and Barbara Comstock. What exactly was the point of that?

  5. AG says:

    Gotcha, even though he condemns Trumps statements and actions, continually attacks things he says and does, and said he’d no longer campaign for him or apologize or anything that appears to support him, because Ryan isn’t removing the endorsement for his parties candidate b/c of the damage it’ll do for the down ticket candidates, he is “[not] a man of princple and [has no] moral standing.” That’s in addition to being “a pathetic, lonely and morally compromised figure.”

    Not extreme at all… nope, totally understandable. Ignore his own beliefs, policies, and actions. Let’s just judge him not pulling his endorsement despite doing everything else to denounce trump. This is indeed far more morally corrupt than smearing sexual assault victims, am I right?

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    Wow that is sanctimonious even for you AG! I am impressed. You went to a whole new level there. That’s as unpleasant and holier-than-thou as you’ve ever been here. A feat that needs acknowledgement.

    I am not ignoring any of that. I have never liked Ryan or his policies. I’ve always felt he’s an extremist who gets away with it due to his (apparent) charm and favorable media coverage. Also, nearly every human being on the planet has condemned Trump. That is hardly impressive or laudable.

  7. PMD says:

    Damn you are smug AG. It’s disingenuous to claim only extremists are being hard on Ryan. There are mainstream conservatives who are criticizing him. I’m not sure why you believe he is acting honorably here.

  8. AG says:

    Dang you guys are sensitive. I’m not saying Ryan is righteous for not rescinding his endorsement, but to say he has no moral standing and quote people as saying he’s ““a pathetic, lonely and morally compromised figure” is ridiculous. He’s not a talk show host like Glenn Beck who can doing this stuff for ratings… he’s the speaker of the house.

    Vincent, i’d love for you to show me once where you’ve called Hillary Clinton out for any of her deplorable acts.

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Ah yes it couldn’t be your tone and smugness. Others must be too sensitive. Typical right-wing rhetoric. Anyone who finds them off-putting is too sensitive. It couldn’t be their behavior. Nope.

    That’s actually a fair question. Clinton doesn’t come up much here. Trump doesn’t much either save for press releases (which I try to ignore) and in stories like this that have a direct local or state connection. I’ve said hardly anything about Trump because he’s not a frequent topic of conversation at Urban Milwaukee. Clinton isn’t either. Have you condemned Trump here for his many deplorable acts?

  10. AG says:

    It’s hard not to be at least a little sarcastic when such extreme statements are made or positions are taken…

    Yes, I’ve condemned Trump here numerous times. He’s an embarrassment.

  11. Virginia Small says:

    Ryan continues to twist himself into a pretzel over his relationship with trump–and it is likely to get uglier for him as Trump vents his rage at him as the standard bearer. Granted, there’s almost no easy way to put a bully like Trump in his place.

    However, the GOP was already imploding nationally during and after the 2012 election. The party has not been able to reinvent itself because it has not come to grips that appealing to an-ever-shrinking base–at least at the presidential level–is not a winning strategy and never will be.

    Nonetheless, Ryan’s “ideas” are not really anything new.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    Again, many mainstream (not extreme) conservatives have been critical of Paul Ryan. It is hardly extremist to believe he isn’t a hero here.

    Call it whatever you want, but you come across like an enormous, unpleasant jerk in posts like that.

  13. AG says:

    Serious question, who are some of Ryan’s biggest “mainstream” critics that do not belong to the tea party and are truly “mainstream?” Follow up question: are most of their criticisms founded in the fact that he tries to compromise with hardliners in the GOP and/or Democrats?

  14. AG says:

    PMD, I’m referring to more than the Trump endorsement. That one is too easy, I myself expressed disappointment in Ryan for his endorsement (and subsequent decision not to revoke the endorsement). However, I’m not the one saying he’s a pathetic, lonely, morally compromised figure.

  15. PMD says:

    But he is morally compromised. Without question. As Schlesinger puts it, “So to sum up: Ryan finds Trump indefensible and won’t actively support him … but still wants him to be president.”

    What I find curious is why the GOP didn’t work to paint Trump as a pervert/sexual predator long ago. Cruz griped about the tape not coming out eight months ago. However, Trump had been going on Stern’s show for years. He was tabloid fodder in New York for years. All of that was common knowledge. Candidates like Jeb and Cruz had a lot of money and resources. Did they even try to dig that stuff up? It makes no sense that they didn’t, especially once it became clear that Trump was polling well.

  16. Virginia Small says:

    PMD and others make good points about Trump’s known statements and actions that GOP candidates and leaders should have been calling out forever.

    Besides all the misogynist, sexist, racist, ethnic and other slurs, there was plenty to take issue with.

    His role in Trump University’s fleecing of “students” and pending lawsuit about it.
    His relentless promotion of birtherism as a dog whistle.
    His many bankruptcies and other failures in business.
    His common practice of stiffing people in business (it became widely known that he routinely did not pay the last 20 percent of his contracted payments–then told people they could sue him to try to get it).
    His boast this year that he could shoot people on 5th Avenue and his fans would still support him (not all that different than bragging that he can get away with sexual assault).
    His mocking the looks of another candidate’s wife.
    His serial infidelity and inappropriate statements about his daughter.
    His attacks on a Gold Medal family of a slain veteran.

    The newest “shocking” revelations are just the frosting on a massive, tasteless and sickening cake.

    What’s more shocking is that his party leaders, other pols and media tolerated and underplayed all these facts for so long.

  17. Judith ann Moriarty says:

    It’s Tuesday, and I dropped off a painting at the Democrats of Washington County headquarters. It’s of a cow plastered in Hillary, Feingold, etc. stickers. An auction item for their annual fundraiser, it joined a table full of handcrafted items. Washington County is ripe with Republicans, but the smart and feisty Democrats who dare to be humanists, have reason to cheer. When Feingold spoke at the modest downtown office, the place was packed. Folks cheered. I think Ryan should join the Dems. He’s finished as a Republican!

  18. AG says:

    PMD, Virginia Small does a good job summing up why I don’t like Trump (more or less a couple items). On trump we can agree.

    Now, regarding Ryan, your position is that even though he doesn’t support or defend Trump yet didn’t rescind his endorsement, Ryan must be morally compromised.

    Can we apply that logic to any state representative or candidate? For example, how about Feingold? He is an unabashed supporter of Hillary Clinton who spearheaded the campaign to ruin the personal and professional lives of women who were assaulted and/or raped by her husband and dared to speak out about it. If so, I find Feingold to be morally compromised for his support of her.

  19. PMD says:

    Wow AG you traffic in Drudge and Alex Jones supported conspiracies. Did you happen to know for example that in a deposition Juanita Broaddrick admitted that Bill Clinton did not sexually assault her? Breitbart is a deplorable organization that is anti-Semitic and pro-white supremacy. They are behind those women appearing at the debate. They are as credible as a hate group. They basically are a hate group. Don’t believe everything you read in right-wing media sources. I don’t think Hillary Clinton has said or done anything nearly as reprehensible as what Trump has said and done. Some people have Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

  20. PMD says:

    Sorry weighed. UM needs an edit feature.

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Robert Kagan does not belong to the tea party and is conservative.

    The aforementioned Jennifer Rubin is also not a tea party supporter/sympathizer as far as I know. Kathleen Parker is a moderate Republican and she has criticized Paul Ryan in her columns. David Brooks has criticized Ryan and he is no tea party conservative. So yes there are many examples.

  22. Bruce Thompson says:

    I think that those of us who often disagree with Ryan (I have never understood why the answer to growing inequality is to cut the taxes of the wealthiest Americans) have to have some sympathy for the quandary that Trump puts them in:
    1. For a Republican in a district that is at all competitive it creates a lose-lose choice. Endorse Trump and lose independents. Avoid endorsing Trump and face the loss of much of one’s base, which is needed to win. Certainly Trump has shown himself to be driven by personal animus.
    2. There is also the dilemma that liberals would face if the roles were reversed: what if the Republicans nominated a candidate of impeccable personal character but who promised to reverse Roe v Wade, get rid of the remaining limits on campaign spending, dismiss global warming (sincerely, which makes it worse), etc. His opponent takes the opposite position on all these issues, but is a Trump-like thug who expresses admiration for various dictators as “strong leaders.” It would be a tough position, I think.

  23. PMD says:

    But Bruce didn’t they bring this on themselves? And like I asked before, why weren’t Team Cruz and Team Jeb researching his Stern appearances and tabloid coverage from the ’80s and ’90s (and had they done more research they might have uncovered who knows what)? I find it real hard to feel sorry for the GOP. They indulged the fringe for years and now act shocked that they are stuck with a racist, misogynist, xenophobic degenerate who longs to imprison his opponents and loves dictators.

  24. Jason says:

    Bruce, you must of not grown up under the tax cuts under JFK or Ronald Reagan. Putting money back in citizens pockets instead of government coffers tend to work.

  25. Bruce Thompson says:

    PMD: I think a strong argument can be made that the Republican establishment helped make the ground fertile for Trump’s appeal, by teaching their base that there was no need for compromise and also reinforcing the notion that the Obama administration threatened the future of America.

  26. Jason says:

    I think allowing 10 million unemployed workers access to disability insurances over the last 7 years compromises America. 95 % of these workers will never return to the labor force. SSDI will run out this year due to their absence from the work force.

  27. PMD says:


    Reagan raised taxes a lot. Trickle down doesn’t work. Hardly anyone subscribes to it anymore.

  28. Vincent Hanna says:

    Add Ross Douthat to the list of mainstream conservative Ryan critics.

    Also did anyone else come across the story of the blogger in northern Wisconsin whose tweets against party leadership (they betrayed people like her she says) got a lot of media attention? I heard her on NPR yesterday.

  29. tim haering says:

    Ryan is running on the SPirit, flying the starship Bistromath, with its unfathomable navigational computations. He will arrive at his Destination, even if we can’t see how now, braon cao.

  30. AG says:

    I like that opinion piece by Ross Douthat. Sums up how I feel well. As I have said before, the more moderate conservatives tend to criticize Ryan for his reluctant Trump endorsement while the staunch party members on both sides of the aisle criticize him for his willingness to compromise.

    I’ve always said, the typical politician tends to anger the other side, but the best and worst politicians tend to anger both sides. I think Trump and Ryan fall into the latter.

  31. PMD says:

    Oh no doubt Ryan is in a tough situation. It’s not a position I envy. But I find it hard to really sympathize not just with him but the GOP in general because I do think they brought this on themselves. Don’t you wonder why there wasn’t more of an effort to dig up this stuff on Trump at the very beginning of the GOP primaries?

  32. old baldy says:


    I lived through both. Neither did much for income equality.

  33. AG says:

    PMD, we already know the answer to that. Even during the campaigns those questions were being asked… and usually the thought was that no one wanted to be the one to attack Trump b/c they knew he’d turn his focus on them. Everyone wanted to wait in the shadows until someone else made the move… until it was too late.

  34. PMD says:

    I don’t know if I completely buy that. Cruz and Bush had huge campaign operations with lots of staff and money and resources. Were they really that fearful of him? Why not some kind of joint effort then? He was going to attack all of them no matter what, which they surely knew.

  35. daniel golden says:

    Jason apparently does his research at Fox Cable News and Rush Limbaugh. Reagan cut taxers for the top marginal rate, relying on advise from the sane clueless nut case behind the current economic collapse in Kansas. The result? Reagan tripled the national debt in 8 years. George Bush cut taxes for “the job creators” (code for the wealthy) twice, doubled the national debt, and left office with the US in economic collapse hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs a month. There are some right wing lies that are so absurd based upon historical reality, that those who promulgate them are clearly among life’s pitiable fools.

  36. Thomas says:

    Thanks, Bruce, for another intelligent essay, the final paragraph of which was especially thought provoking. Ryan’s charisma has taken him a long way, but his hollowness now apparent to many objective observers has restricted him to smaller and smaller boxes. Promoted by his champions as A MAN OF IDEAS, his dirty dancing with Trumpsters has made it clear that he has no coherent ideology. Like Trump, Ryan’s ideas just suck fumes from Reagan’s trickle down economic theory that resulted in 30 years of economic stagnation for our middle class. Does anyone on this site remember that our national debt nearly tripled during the BORROW AND SPEND Reagan years?

    Thanks, Virginia, for post # 18. I cannot imagine how anyone who actually reads every word of that post could continue to support Trump. You delicately understated Ryan’s lack of ideas in that post, too. It is long past the time that we dignify reaction as thinking – continuing to allow reactionaries to call themselves conservatives when they don’t want to conserve anything; rather, that all they want is to take us back in time before the FDR era, before unemployment compensation, social security, …

    No, WCD, this is not whining. I am not complaining. I am observing. Please reference the word “whine” in a dictionary, and enroll in a remedial writing class at a technical college or adult high school if the meaning of that word still escapes you.

  37. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    This will not have any effect on Ryans career.

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