Disappointment in Paul Ryan Provides Clue to America’s Current Mess

Rep. Paul Ryan (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Rep. Paul Ryan (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

By Calvin Freiburger

Wilfred McClay of the University of Oklahoma best summarized the root cause of conservatives’ unpleasant choice for president this fall: “when a political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising essential topics, the electorate will soon turn to ‘unrespectable’ ones” like Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, the punditry remains slow to recognize this, and nothing symbolizes its cognitive dissonance more than the reactions to House Speaker Paul Ryan supporting Trump despite Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The past few weeks have been filled with fears and lamentations over the threat to Ryan’s standing as, Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes puts it, “the intellectual leader of the conservative movement in the GOP.”

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg sums up the sentiment in writing that it’s “more difficult for me to write than it should be” that Ryan’s “a disappointment”:

[P]hilosophically and temperamentally, I’ve long felt that Ryan is my kind of politician, and that judgment didn’t change after getting to know him (which is rare, given how most politicians are all too human). His vision for government’s role and the kind of party the GOP should be has always resonated with me, even if I didn’t agree with him on every policy or vote.

It should tell you all you need to know about the sorry state of the Right that disappointment in Ryan took this long for so many.

Woodrow Wilcox

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It’s been observed that Trump and Barack Obama both resonate with voters less for their intrinsic merit and more for the hopes supporters project onto them. But few recognize the same phenomenon surrounding Ryan, who’s held up as a gold standard, despite consistently falling short of the principle and leadership strengths attributed to him.

Overall, Ryan holds a 61% lifetime average with Heritage Action and a 55% Conservative Review score. No politician is perfect, but Ryan’s record of conservatism doesn’t even reach “below average.” The Left may not believe in failing grades, but are we ready to join them?

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The sole rationale for his acclaim, fiscal seriousness, is wildly overblown. For all the left-wing hysterics it inspired at the time, his 2012 plan would have actually left countless programs and agencies untouched, and wouldn’t have balanced the budget until 2040. Worse, a year later he joined Democrat Patty Murray to sabotage Hill Republicans’ only recent, significant fiscal accomplishment, the sequester budget caps. Last year, he and Mitch McConnell gave Obama a $1.1 trillion spending bill that failed to incorporate conservative priorities or gut leftist ones.

Moreover, Ryan’s endless fantasizing about what Republicans could do with full control over the federal government distracts from the battles happening in the offices they do have, like rebuilding a warzone before the war’s ended—and with similar results. As David Horowitz explains, “if you are going to make budget cuts, you do it. You don’t telegraph it,” because it’s impossible to disprove Democrat fear-mongering before the cuts take effect and voters see the doomsday predictions debunked for themselves.

Sure, Ryan generally takes the right positions on issues (although he voted for TARP, the internet sales tax scheme known as the Marketplace Fairness Act, and for eliminating religious employers’ right to reject employees who reject their faith’s principles), but he’s been AWOL for the fights that would have made a real difference.

As the opposition party to a leftist president, the Republican Congress’s most important job during Obama’s tenure was asserting its constitutional power of the purse to block funding for the Left’s agenda, including the criminal butchers at Planned Parenthood, Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, and the ruinous, unconstitutional Obamacare.

Ryan not only continued John Boehner’s trend of neglecting that duty, he did so while claiming the “constraints of the Constitution” made him lie down—you know, the same Constitution that empowers Congress to withhold funds, for James Madison’s express purpose of reining in wayward branches of government. That, combined with Ryan’s assurance that none of Obama’s clearly impeachable offenses warrant impeachment, sets a precedent President Clinton II is sure to exploit.

Finally, Ryan is a pro-amnesty diehard, from sabotaging efforts to control immigration early in his career to championing the most recent amnesty bill, without regard for its fraudulent enforcement promises. Indeed, his immigration zealotry overrides his other supposed conservative principles so fully that he openly supports “guest workers” for the express purpose of relieving employers of the burden of having to compete for employees by offering higher wages.

Granted, he’s just one of many relentlessly out-of-touch Republicans on that issue, but then no other Republican has gotten as much of a pass on doing so, even from conservatives who aren’t fellow amnesty zealots. Like Dr. McClay said, the Right told voters this is what passed for respectable, so in their desperation they turned to the unrespectable.

Fixing this mess will be long, difficult work, but one lesson is obvious: don’t expect voters to hold their idols to standards if we don’t do the same for ours.

Calvin Freiburger is a Wisconsin-based conservative commentator. His work can primarily be found on Live Action News, the Federalist Papers Project, and his personal website, Conservative Standards. Follow him @CalFreiburger


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  • Clifford Steigerwald

    Ryan is just one of the many “Republicans” who are complicit in keeping Democratic controls intact even though they (dems) do not have any majorities to be able to do it themselves.