Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Ryan, Priebus on a Sinking Ship

Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus may go down with the USS Trump.

By - May 23rd, 2017 11:47 am
Reince Priebus, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan.

Reince Priebus, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan.

At the outset let me confess I was all wrong about candidate Donald Trump, suggesting he had no chance of even winning the GOP nomination. And I was equally wrong in predicting problems for Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus for supporting Trump.

On the other hand, maybe the relative sanity I assumed prevailed in American politics is simply going to arrive a bit later than some predicted.

Consider the flagging fortunes of Reince Priebus. His rise to become President Trump’s chief of staff may have set him up for an embarrassing fall. The administration Priebus runs was recently savaged as a “Human Resources disaster area” by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, who’s well-connected to Republican politicos.

“The Trump administration,” he writes, “has hundreds of senior and midlevel positions to fill, and… few people of any quality or experience are going to want to join a team that is already toxic. Nobody is going to want to become the next H. R. McMaster, a formerly respected figure who is now permanently tainted because he threw his lot in with Donald Trump.”

Brooks describes the staff Priebus oversees as “a self-cannibalizing piranha squad whose main activity is lawyering up,” an administration with an “unprecedented” level of leaking where “Senior members of the White House staff” run to the media and “express disdain, exasperation, anger and disrespect for their boss” and Trump “is resentfully returning fire, blaming his underlings for his own mistakes.”

And at the center of all this is Priebus: “This is a White House in which the internal nickname for the chief of staff is Rancid.”

Whew. The press has been speculating for months that Preibus could be fired by Trump and Fox Business is now positing that Priebus’ early return from Trump’s Middle East trip is a sign the chief of staff is about to be let go. That might actually be better for his reputation than to continue on with an imploding administration that, as Brooks concludes, has no chance of ever becoming an effective governing institution.

Meanwhile, Priebus’ friend and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan faces a situation nearly as ugly. The House Speaker’s pragmatic embrace of Trump has increasingly left Ryan vulnerable to the most damning political charge — a lack of patriotism — with no concern about Russia’s efforts to undermine America’s democracy.

The latest evidence of this is a Washington Post story by Adam Entous reporting that Ryan was in a meeting where House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA ) joked that Trump was on the payroll of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.

This took place on June 15, 2016, just one day after a story reported the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by the Russian government and not long after Ryan and McCarthy had just “emerged from separate talks at the Capitol” with the Ukrainian Prime Minister who told them about “the Kremlin financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.”

So McCarthy was joking about a hostile nation trying to undermine democracy in Eastern Europe and America. And Ryan’s response has the feel of a Mafia don shushing his lieutenants. He told the other Republicans in the room that “This is an off the record” discussion… No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

Ryan and McCarthy denied this story even after Entous said he had a transcript of the meeting and finally admitted it was true only after he told them he had a tape recording of the meeting. They then passed it off as a joke, but it clearly shows they had suspicions about connections between Russia and Trump, who just a month later called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

This latest revelation adds more to a timeline of Ryan’s willingness to benefit from Russia’s cyber attack on America. In late August Ryan, who served as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was contacted by Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who asked him not to use the documents hacked by the Russians against Democratic candidates. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi later sent a letter to Ryan making the same request and he never responded to either of them. And the stolen material was used in ads against Democrats.

Ryan was one of 12 members of Congress briefed by U.S. intelligence agents about the Russian cyber attacks and asked by President Barack Obama to present a united bipartisan front in opposition to this. But Ryan and Republicans declined.

Later, after Trump’s election, Ryan repeatedly resisted calls for a congressional investigation of Russian interference in America’s election. And then he continued to support Rep. Devin Nunes as the head of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russian investigation even after Nunes shared intelligence on Russia and the Trump campaign with the President, a potential target of the investigation. Only after weathering a week of criticism did Nunes decide to recuse, with Ryan’s support.

And after Trump fired FBI director James Comey, the man leading the Russian investigation, Ryan defended it. Even after Trump went on national TV and admitted the Russian investigation helped push him to fire Comey, Ryan blamed Trump’s opponents for the situation, saying “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president.”

Meanwhile, Ryan’s approval rating in the polls has been plummeting: a Journal Sentinel summary of five different national polls done in March and April show the House Speaker’s approval rating ranged as low as 28 percent and his disapproval rating as high as 54 percent. Ryan was by then less popular than even Donald Trump.

Most of the decline in Ryan’s approval rating was among Democratic and independent voters, and reflected a general dissatisfaction with Trump and the House health care plan. But it suggests the peril of aligning yourself too closely with a very unpopular president, who now faces an investigation by a tough special prosecutor.

As the revelations continue to emerge — the latest is that Trump tried to convince two intelligence chiefs to push back against Comey’s Russian investigation — those tied closely to the president will be stained as well. Should Ryan someday run for president — clearly a future goal — his repeated unwillingness to stand up to a cyber attack on America by one of its greatest enemies could make him a fatally flawed candidate. That might even become a problem in running for reelection in Wisconsin in 2018, where the last Marquette Law School poll showed his disapproval rating has increased and half of respondents were concerned about Russian interference in the 2016 election — and this was in March, before Comey’s firing.

But even as the national press had a field day with the story of Ryan warning Republicans not to divulge the McCarthy joke about Trump’s connection to Russia, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has tried to pretend nothing has happened. Craig Gilbert’s recent update on Ryan and Trump buried the McCarthy incident on the 30th paragraph (back on the jump page) of the JS story, and simply omitted Ryan’s role in pledging his GOP confederates to secrecy.

Similarly, the newspaper had declined to report on Ryan’s complicity in the GOP’s use of Russian-hacked data in 2016 campaign ads and his unwillingness to take a stand when given information last summer on the cyber attack. No doubt most of its Republican readers will approve. But what about Democrats, independents and even a minority of Republicans who do care about the Russian investigation?

Trump’s mounting problems have been frequently compared to Watergate, but it’s worth noting that Nixon’s coverup wasn’t done to hide unpatriotic complicity with an unfriendly foreign power. Should that ever be proven in the case of Trump’s campaign, both Ryan and the newspaper may have uncomfortable questions to answer.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

30 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Ryan, Priebus on a Sinking Ship”

  1. JPKMKE says:

    I like to have a Wisconsin leader as Speaker because, let’s face it, we’re not first in line for Federal support. I don’t think it is malfeasance as much as I think he is over his head in this role. Clearly he is in the unenviable position of dealing with a President and Party leader who is at best unpredictable and uninfluencable. But I don’t think it’s impossible to manage. The Trump White House is very similar to the Clinton White House in his first term. His staffers were stewing and leaking unattributable information while Clinton was holed up in his office with “advisors”. No one knew what he was doing. He didn’t work to get support behind his tax cut (middle class at the time) and it failed. It was followed up with a cut to capital gains (which benefited the rich and well to do). Sounds familiar. Perhaps Foley and Gingrich understood that leading the house is not a binary exercise of stating your stance then waiting for others to follow.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    How has Wisconsin benefited from Ryan being Speaker? The country is worse off with him as Speaker, including Wisconsin. Unless you only care about slashing the safety nut and cutting taxes for the wealthy. Then he is your man.

  3. JPKMKE says:

    For those who might be reading and are not picking up on the nuance in my first point…I would prefer to have someone from our state in congressional leadership positions. I don’t think that is a point to debate. I don’t disagree that we could have better results.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    It was an honest question. How has the state benefited? And do you have anything to say about Bruce’s story?

  5. JPKMKE says:

    Vince your accusationsl remarks lead me to believe that you don’t understand my comments. I am not Ryan’s defender. I am adding perspective on a well written story and highlighting a parallel to the past when Speakers managed a difficult period across the aisle.

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    You keep moving the goalposts, which does make you hard to understand. You say the state benefits when the Speaker is from here, but when asked to explain how we have benefited, you shift and say you are talking about past examples of Speakers managing a difficult period.

  7. Kent Mueller says:

    Ryan’s tied to Trump, but it likely won’t kill him in 2018. It will be a very narrow re-election at worst, but one can hope. Reince on the other hand, there’s less to salvage the longer he stays on. It’s a permanent taint.
    Incredible that Wisconsin Republicans took over not long before Trump imploded the party. They all hesitated to get behind him, but by this point they’re all Soviet Republicans.

  8. tim haering says:

    Bruce, I am having trouble arguing with you. Al Hunt was just on MSNBC arguing similarly to Brooks. George Will has done likewise. I cannot imagine why Priebus took the gig except ego. He always looked like Trump heebied his jeebies. But Ryan only took this gig because McCarthy dropped and if Ryan didn’t step in, he would have lost his chair. Now he’s noodled this catfish. He could have the trophy of a lifetime or lose his right hand. His call. If he surrenders his gavel, he won’t get a chair again. He may as well retire. So he slumps blindly in his corner and cries, “Cut me, Mick!” hoping for enough vision for a 15th round knock-out. His motivation also seems to be all ego now. I think they’re both praying for a Pres. Pence. Aren’t we all? Good luck with that. Don’t the Republicans have a Rep. Frank Underwood? Or maybe Trump is Underwood. Hail to the new hit reality show: President Kardashian. I feel like Slartibartfast. I think that the chances of finding out what’s actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, “Hang the sense of it,” and keep myself busy.

    sorry to talk your ear off. I forgot Shakespeare;s edict on wit.

  9. tim haering says:

    I wish Frank had lived to see this. Maybe he’d adapt “ship arriving too late to save a drowning Trump.”

  10. Bluegrass Blues says:

    We in the Bluegrass state, are asking the same question. about our Senator McConnel. What has he done for his home state. We too have a empty blank.

  11. Michael Schwister says:

    I think the prospect of having Priebus and Ryan in Washington made “the sort of Libertarian” crowd giddy with the prospect of taking their Wisconsin agenda nationally. As far as Ryan bringing home the bacon! Our State government refuses to accept any of our federal tax dollars.

  12. M. Newell says:

    In Bruce Murphy’s article, it should read “Devin Nunes ” not “David Nunes.”

  13. Dave Reid says:

    @M. Newell. Thanks.. Fixed.

  14. JPKMKE says:

    Vince, you appear to have a pre-loaded argument in search of an adversary. I am happy to play that role, but not this time. I didn’t say the state is benefiting from Ryan in his post, I suggested that having someone in the state in the post could benefit Wisconsin…and then I said that he is over his head. What part of this suggests that he is in fact benefiting the state? I’m also perplexed about your motivation to try to reduce a complex set of observations to your simple view of quotes and articles from people who agree with you. A different approach would be to view an issue from multiple dimensions and have a real discussion.

  15. JPKMKE says:

    Bluegrass Blues – I sat next to Mitch McConnel on an airplane. He is a very strange guy.

  16. Rich says:

    I think they’re both praying for a Pres. Pence. Aren’t we all?

    OMFG, no! He’s there by design, so don’t let them win.

    The only saving grace right now is that the disastrous legislation they’re trying to pass while hiding under Trump’s cover can’t even be put together and passed with any caucus. Example, look how they’re “negotiating” health care, rich white Republican men secretly mapping out who’s special interest (namely other rich white men) will win bigger and personally (even if indirectly) net them a bigger reward. Pence is designed to be the calm after the storm of that partially manufactured drama and sign it all into law after people drop their guard. Little in his Indiana experience shows that he has any greater concern for the general populace, let alone that of the LGTBQ segment.

  17. John Kishline says:

    Thank you, Bruce for your gentle admonishments on our Kenosha Comedy duo. Ryan’s mouth moves so that means he’s lying. It’s been like that as long as I’ve ever heard or read his words. His Ayn Rand hard on, left over from adolescence, leaves him still enraptured in her fecal logic, which is his right, but don’t dump that scat on the rest of us. His economic policies belong in the Gilded Age and would ruin what little is left of the middle class after Reagan’s bullshit reign. He’s a two bit charlatan and Reince is worth half that.

  18. Willie Loman says:

    The Trump ship is not sinking. But Paul amnesty Ryan is a rino and he can go anytime. Paul rino and reince priebus are no conservatives. The sooner they go the better.

  19. Vincent Hanna says:

    Not sinking? That’s hard to defend. This isn’t exactly the normal woes of an early presidency.

  20. Steve G says:

    All Fake News.

    David Brooks?


  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Turn off Hannity Stevie.

  22. Thomas says:

    Yes, Bruce, when David Brooks, Al Hunt and George Will all agree on something, that thing deserves attention. They agree that Trump is the boy captain of a sinking ship and that his first and second mates have limited futures as a consequence of their association with the “cry-baby in chief” who thinks that he has been treated more unfairly by the press than anyone before him – despite the fact that the media looked the other way while Trump lied again and again (presumably to pursue a remarkable story less plausible than bad fiction)

    A proverb attributed to Russians says “a dead fish stinks from the head down.” The stench of corruption in the Trump campaign and in the first months of his presidency is so strong that it is hard to identify the origin of it. The Russian connections with Trump business and Trump campaign officials are more than malodorous.

  23. Will says:

    Wow, well if the Post and David brooks feel that way then trump must really be in trouble! I love how libs quote other libs or unnamed sources to make their points. Its always “may” or “potentially”, all smoke no fire, unless you count all the back deals Obama and Clinton cut with the Russians, then there’s fire . It’s still shocking to see how out of touch and clueless politicos STILL are. Even after the crow they all, 100% of them, were force fed by Trump in November. You losers need to sit down, shut up and let us handle the real world. You’ve had your turn, 8 years of your savior Obama, and you achieved nothing. Absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Sit down and shut up, the grown ups are back in charge

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    Trump is a grown up? An elderly man who has Twitter temper tantrums and goes in front of the military at graduations to gripe about how he’s being treated is a grown up? I love how right-wingers act like they wouldn’t be outraged if Clinton was in cahoots with Russia. But it’s Trump so it’s a liberal media conspiracy and just smoke. Right. You people have had Clinton Derangement and Obama Derangement for years now, but with Trump it’s “nothing to see here.” Sell crazy somewhere else.

  25. Thomas says:

    Re post # 23, the only liberal in the trio cited first by Bruce Murphy and again in post 22 is Al Hunt. David Brooks is a conservative. George Will sounds conservative sometimes and reactionary at other times.

    Will wrote that Obama achieved nothing. Obama steered us out of the GREAT RECESSION of 10/2007 thru 6/2009, and he presided over a record # of consecutive months of job growth. He passed the Affordable Care Act that resulted in many millions of people securing health care – despite an 8 year effort by reactionaries to sabotage that legislation.

    The Will mentioned in the above paragraph is the author of post # 23, not George Will.

  26. Mike says:

    Let’s see Mr. Murphy….you admit you were dead wrong about Trump, Ryan, and Priebus at least twice. Very likely, you will be wrong again. All the speculation is merely hate and fear mongering, coordinated by the liberal media. Besides your “news” organization, who pays you to write this piffle? You have probably forgotten that Ryan is in the succession line to become President. I’m sure you will come up with inflated speculation to try to take down Pence as well. If that happens, Ryan will become President. How does he get sunk by Trump even if you’re right? Please try not to insult our intelligence again.

  27. Steve G says:

    Thomas from post #25….

    ‘Conservative from the New York Times’ is an oxymoron.

    Like I said a few days ago.

    All FAKE NEWS!

  28. Observer says:

    Smart money is on President Orrin Hatch.

  29. Thomas says:

    Steve G. from post # 27,

    Your failure to recognize David Brooks as a conservative appears to be based on his affiliation with the N.Y. Times. Please do yourself a favor, and read a N.Y, Times once. It may help you understand the depth and breadth of issues. I have routinely read the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the Seattle Times, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Sentinel and the Milwaukee Jourinal since the 2 Milwaukee papers merged. 3 of the above were good papers. None of them gave me an understanding of the depth and breadth of issues that I got from reading the New York Times.

    Watch Brooks with Mark Shields on the PBS Newshour some Friday night if you wish to see the distinction between a conservative and a liberal.

    Trump calls news from the N.Y. Times fake because he thrives on made-up crap from the likes of the Enquirer or Britebart.. He is talented at assigning his flaws to others. If Trump calls someone crooked, for example, he is deflecting a fear that his own crookedness will be exposed.

  30. Wis. Conservative Dgiest says:

    Ship did not sink! GOP solidly behind Donald.

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