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Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

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Grasping for Straws

Our formerly Grand Old Party formally nominated Donald J. Trump for President of the United States of America on Tuesday, so at this point the only straw of faint hope for the country we can grasp at is that he won’t accept the nomination on Thursday and instead admit that his candidacy was just a practical joke and publicity gimmick gone badly awry. There’s even less chance of that happening than that the Democrats won’t nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton by month’s end, and thus our formerly great country will almost certainly wind up with one of the two most deplorable people its all-too-human political system has ever vomited up as its next president.
Those always deplorable Democrats will surely embarrass themselves in nominating their unprecedentedly deplorable choice in short time, and we’ll gleefully note it when they do, but until then we must glumly concede they’ll be hard-pressed to top what’s been going on at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Thus far the Republican convention has featured the hated “establishment” that Trump vowed to burn down quashing the feeble efforts of delegates representing the majority of the grass-roots Republicans who voted against Trump with highly questionable parliamentary tactics, the third trophy wife of the formerly family values party borrowing lines from the deplorable President Barack Obama’s deplorable wife, and the star power of that guy who used to play “Chachi” on “Happy Days.” Conspicuously absent from the stage are the party’s last nominee and its past two presidents and the locally popular Republican governor of the crucial swing state of convention-hosting Ohio, all of whom the presumptive Republican has slandered in the most outrageous fashion. The runner-up whose wife the Republican nominee mocked as ugly and whose father he fancifully suggested was in on the assassination of John Kennedy is scheduled for a turn on the stage, but at this point we can’t think of anything he might say on behalf of Trump that will do him or the Republican nominee much good.

None of this is helpful in dissuading the clear majority of Americans who have already formed a negative of opinion of Trump. The “anti-establishment” mantle he claimed was undermined when the “establishment” proved just as feckless as he’d always said it was and meekly climbed aboard the “Trump train,” his third wife’s cribbing from Michelle Obama’s cliched convention speech undermines is no big deal but allows the press to undermine Trump’s claim that his inept general election operation will surround him with the best people, and that “Chachi” guy and his weird speech suggests that the erstwhile reality show star doesn’t have the pop culture credentials that were enough to win a nomination by a formerly Grand Old Party. Some of the speeches that were allowed at the convention made a persuasive case that the all-but-certain Democratic nominee is even worse, but even then the Republican nominee’s ego got in the way. Less noticed was the Republican Party platform’s suddenly pro-Russian stance, but then again the presumptive Democratic nominee was the one who first offered that “re-set button.”

Perhaps the most compelling speaker the Republicans could come up with was Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died along with American ambassador and two others in Benghazi, Libya, as a result of the utter incompetence of the presumptive Democratic nominee, who also brazenly lied to her face about the reasons why, but if you were watching on Fox News you missed it because the Republican nominee chose that crucial moment to phone in another self-aggrandizing and utterly ridiculous interview that pre-empted the speech. In any case he was outspokenly for that ill-advised Libyan adventure, even if he brazenly lies about it now to Patricia Smith and the rest of us, just as he brazenly lies about his opposition to the Iraq War that he slanderously blames on the last two Republican presidents, and no matter what apologies his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supports might come up with he missed yet another opportunity because he simply can’t shut up and let the Democrats look bad.
We can’t discount the possibility that the Democrats will once again boo God and badmouth America and otherwise embarrass themselves when they nominate their deplorable nominee, and we note with some satisfaction that she’s also unfavorably regarded by a heartening 60 percent or so of the country, but they’ll have their work cut out for them if they want to surpass what’s going on in Cleveland. In any case, we’ll be clinging to the faint straw of hope that some pot-smoking Libertarian or teetotaling Prohibitionist or some other oddball alternative might yet mitigate the next four awful years.

— Bud Norman