House Speaker Paul Ryan has been running for the exit at a full sprint ever since announcing his retirement in April (not that his dipshit colleagues in the House Republican caucus want him to stick around). But if you expected Ryan to gain any sort of backbone at all in these final months of dealing with Donald Trump and the far right House Freedom Caucus, a new profile in the New York Times Magazine should change your mind.
Here’s the opening anecdote from reporter Mark Leibovich’s piece:
“Ah, jeez,” [Ryan] said a few seconds after we sat down. An aide had just handed Ryan a note: The president was on the phone. “Let me take this real quick,” he said. I waited a few minutes in the reception area until being invited back in. “The president saw me on ‘Fox & Friends,’ ” Ryan told me, explaining the interruption. “He said he thought I looked good.”
This is what a man who publicly admitted dreaming of eliminating the safety net while he was doing keg stands has been reduced to: sheepishly taking phone calls from the worm-brained president he’s in complete servitude to, and who proceeds to critique his performance on cable television.
Ryan seemingly knew how bad this was, because he took the time to boast to Leibovich that he “used the opportunity to steer the conversation to the subject of trade policy,” and that Trump “seemed to get the message.” Definitely. For sure.
That’s not the only gem in the profile about the Trump-Ryan relationship:
Trump used to call Ryan “Boy Scout.” “I thought it was a compliment,” said Ryan, a former altar boy and habitual people-pleaser. But after the Republican-controlled Congress passed a few bills Trump announced to Ryan that he would stop using the nickname. “So I guess he meant it as an insult all along,” the speaker said. “I didn’t realize.” Ryan shrugged.
Welp, can’t win ‘em all!
In an inspiring display of bullshit, however, Ryan framed his complete lack of willpower to fight Trump as effectiveness (emphasis mine):
Ryan made a determination after Trump’s election that to defy the president too forcefully would invite a counterreaction. He tends to speak of the commander in chief as if he were sharing a coping strategy on dealing with a Ritalin-deprived child. “It boomerangs,” Ryan says of being too critical of Trump. “He goes in the other direction, so that’s not effective.” He added, “The pissing match doesn’t work.”
Ryan prefers to tell Trump how he feels in private. He joins a large group of Trump’s putative allies, many of whom have worked in the administration, who insist that they have shaped Trump’s thinking and behavior in private: the “Trust me, I’ve stopped this from being much worse” approach. “I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy,” Ryan tells me. “I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal.”
What tragedies did Ryan avoid?
I locked in on the word “tragedy.” It sets the mind reeling to whatever thwarted “tragedies” Ryan might be talking about. I asked for an example. “No, I don’t want to do that,” Ryan replied. “That’s more than I usually say.”
Here’s more courage from Ryan, during a question and answer session with billionaire David Rubenstein, and later during an exchange with Leibovich himself:
“I’m not going to touch that one,” he said. Rubenstein followed up with a related question about whether Trump should be allowed to pardon himself. Ryan laughed. “I’m good, thanks,” he said, as if he were resisting a plate of hors d’oeuvres — not touching that either.
Ryan seemed to become agitated by this line of questioning. “I’m not going to spend my time being a pundit, theorizing and speculating,” he said. “I’m going to spend my time making a difference in people’s lives, getting stuff done.” Now I was slightly annoyed by Ryan’s reduction of my question to “pundit theorizing,” as if Mueller’s investigation held zero significance to people’s lives. “I’m not going to spend my time getting into these circular debates,” Ryan added. “I’m trying to get an agenda passed.”
Reminder: this is the third-most powerful person in the federal government. No wonder his district is a battleground this year.
At this point, with less than five months left in office, there’s only a few explanations for why Ryan is like this: that he actually likes the way things are, or that the 48-year old sees a future for himself in a Republican Party that isn’t going to abandon Trumpism anytime soon.
Either way, one thing is clear: the Speaker of the House is a fucking coward. And regardless of what happens in November, Congress will be just a tiny bit better without him in it.