Some people never learn.
An angry, defiant yet patriotic GOP electorate turned out by the millions to give populist outsider Donald Trump wins in 27 primaries. He beat Bush, Rubio, Cruz, the rest of the crowded field and all of the big donors used to calling the shots.
Trump won in the South, the Northeast, the Southwest, and the Rust Belt. He won pluralities of women, men, Hispanics, blacks, college and high school graduates. He made several controversial statements that pundits predicted would finish him. None of them did. He was unrepentant and unrelenting — which came off as refreshing compared to the poll-tested reactions from the rest of the field. If he was a bully — he was their bully fighting the corrupt government and political correctness so many have grown tired of.
After this brutal, almost year-long stretch, one might think that the Republicans in power would have had a revelation or two. Maybe the obsessive push for TPP or immigration amnesty was wrongheaded. Maybe they need to oppose liberal policies instead of cave to them. Maybe they should recognize that the last Bush administration made some key errors that we need not repeat. (After all, the GOP lost the House and the Senate between 2006 and 2008.)
But no. Despite a brief period of outreach to conservatives, Speaker Paul Ryan is still clinging to the old Bush ways. He seems incapable of seeing the writing on the wall, and now is playing hard to get with the Trump campaign.
On Thursday he said Trump had yet to prove that he shares the conservative values and principles necessary to be the GOP’s standard-bearer.
“I’m just not ready to do that at this point,” Ryan said when asked by CNN if he was supporting Trump. “I’m not there right now.”
Mitt Romney, of course, is not on the Trump Train either — and former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush both said they plan to sit out the 2016 election rather than support Trump.
This is further evidence that the conservative populism expressed by Donald Trump and his ally Sen. Jeff Sessions should become its own movement, with its own agenda, its own leaders, and its own spokesmen. It seems increasingly apparent that pols like Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and John McCain don’t represent anyone other than their donors. Trump, on the other hand, represents most of the GOP, and those people deserve to have a movement that will actually work for them.
Ryan should also understand that if he can’t support Trump, the Trump supporters may ask their own representative why he or she is supporting Ryan for speaker.
After all, who does Ryan represent? One district in Wisconsin? A bunch of House goofballs who can’t get out of their own way? Why does he get to be the spokesman for the GOP? The speaker’s office should represent the people who elected the House majority — it shouldn’t represent the same Donor Class that the party hates and just rejected by overwhelming numbers.
Here is the good news. Speaker Ryan did say: “Those of us [in Washington] need to learn a few lessons here … a bit of humility that each of us needs as leaders in Congress. People are sending a message … [Trump] tapped into something that was very powerful. We need to learn from and listen to [this].”
Ryan also said on Thursday, “I don’t want to underplay what he accomplished. But he also inherits something very special … This is the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Jack Kemp. And we don’t always nominate a Lincoln or a Reagan every four years, but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln- or Reagan-esque, that that person advances the principles of our party and appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans.”
He said he needs to see that Trump is “taking the principles we all believe in … and showing that there’s a dedication to those.”
But what principles is he talking about, exactly? Trade deals that don’t work? Fast-tracking amnesty to illegal aliens when Americans can’t find good-paying jobs? Fighting wars that the people don’t understand or support?
Reagan had a very different idea in all three areas than Paul Ryan.
Trump, for his part, pushed back on Ryan with these comments: “I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda. Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people. They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first.”
Unfortunately, instead of doing what their constituents want, too many House members apparently just do what their donors say. We may want to insist that after the 2016 election, GOP House members sponsor a public debate — on Fox News — where candidates for the speakership would present their views to the people. And the public could then write to their members, telling them who they should pick for speaker. Let’s see if Ryan can do better with the public than Jeb or Rubio did.