The GOP Can’t Be Saved—and Neither Can Paul Ryan


Paul Ryan, former Republican Congressman and vice presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign event in 2012, in Swanton, Ohio. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

I am sick of letting Republicans mangle the narrative of how their party became a clear and present danger to American democracy. I am tired of the media lauding the few Republicans (or “former” Republicans) who belatedly speak out against the Trumpist cult of bigotry and lies that they themselves helped construct. Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, John Boehner—these people are not iconoclasts; they’re complicit. Long before Donald Trump, they greedily made a deal with the devil and are now miffed that the bill has come due. Republicans who speak out against the threat that other Republicans pose to democracy are just dog-whistle salesmen trying to claw back market share from the ascendant bullhorn industry.

The latest entrant into this field is former representative Paul Ryan. Most people will remember Ryan for his mewling cowardice in the face of Trump’s bullying and bigotry, despite his being the Republican speaker of the House. Ryan basically invented the “I didn’t see the tweet” defense. Now, he has joined the tiny rump of Republicans trying to wrest their party back from white domestic terrorists—the same people Ryan used to coddle in his own quest for power—by denouncing the GOP’s slide toward antidemocratic authoritarianism and urging a return to some made-up principled past.

In a speech last night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (of course), Ryan made a big show of warning that the Republican Party is at a “crossroads.” “If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere,” he said. He also warned that, should conservatives fail in future elections, “it will be because we gave too much allegiance to one passing political figure, and weren’t loyal enough to our principles.”

Given that the Republican Party has now mainstreamed infection and insurrection, I get why mainstream media makers might think it’s newsworthy when any erstwhile Republican leader is willing to speak out against the party orthodoxy of lies and deceit. But let’s not make any mistakes about who Ryan still is and what his “principles” are. Before he debased himself into retirement, Ryan was an Ayn Rand sock puppet on a personal crusade to starve the government of resources so it could not deliver services. And the glory days he’s hoping to resurrect are nothing more than that: a return to the days where Republicans expressed their cruelty through charts and graphs instead of tweets and slurs. Ryan just wants the cult of tax cuts to reassert its dominance over the cult of Trump.

Remember, while the current GOP rhetoric is overtly racist, the old GOP policies have long been as well. This is a party that, for decades, has attacked the social safety net through racist depictions of “welfare queens” and other “takers,” while carrying out union-busting in the name of the “white” working class. Its fiscal plan has long been to give more benefits to the already rich while providing fewer services to the currently struggling—and then call those who struggle “lazy” or lacking in “personal responsibility.” When Ryan talks about bringing back his party’s “principles,” of returning to the Reaganite good old days, that’s what he means.

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