Paul Ryan, man of ideas

The Times takes a farewell look at Paul Ryan:

As has been strenuously noted, Trump and Ryan are stylistic and philosophical opposites: Trump the blunt-force agitator vs. Ryan the think-tank conservative. Trump lashes out while Ryan treads carefully. Ryan still fashions himself a “policy guy” and a man of ideas: In high school, he read the conservative philosopher Ayn Rand and was captivated by her signature work, “Atlas Shrugged.”

Stop right there. One, reading Atlas Shrugged does not make anyone a person of ideas. Two, Ayn Rand was not a philosopher. She was a screenwriter and a novelist.

The speaker says he tries to encourage good behavior in the president. “He put out a tweet last night that was really good,” Ryan told me after he and the president hung up. (It was apparently an inoccuous tweet about trade.) The speaker’s words carried the vaguely patronizing tone of a parent affirming a potty-training milestone.

Which would be slightly less horrifying if the guy being potty trained didn’t have the sole power to launch the nukes.

Ryan has been bashed from almost all sides for going along with Trump.

Ryan’s defiance to Trump, such as it is, can carry an almost pro forma quality. He will avoid or claim ignorance if possible (“I didn’t see the tweet”), chastise the president if he must (rarely by name), wait for the latest outrage to pass, rinse and repeat. “Frankly, I haven’t paid that close attention to it,” said Ryan at a June news conference in which he was asked about the job status of Scott Pruitt, the scandal-drenched E.P.A. administrator who was finally run out of office in July and whose mounting offenses over several months would have been impossible for even the most casual news consumer to miss.

“I can understand all of the rationalities,” says Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative radio host in Wisconsin who spent years trying to persuade Ryan to run for president before turning sharply against him over Trump. “In a Faustian bargain, you get a lot of things. You get the wealth, you get the beautiful women and you get all this good stuff.”

You get a lot of things, you get all this good stuff – money, cars, fuckable women. Stuff, man.

After our meeting in his office, Ryan addressed a packed house of congressional interns in the Capitol Visitor Center. A former intern himself, Ryan has a well-known Washington origin story: He worked as a waiter at Tortilla Coast, the renowned Capitol Hill bar and restaurant, before being elected to Congress at 28. In his talk to the interns, Ryan encouraged students to resist the temptation of Twitter “snark.” He encouraged them not to “degrade the tone of our debate” and to appeal to our “common humanity.”

In other words, brass-necked hypocrisy.

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.”

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.”

Sure, what right do we have to know?

Ryan gave a little lunchtime speech and there was a Q and A afterwards.

Rubenstein also sprang a question about whether Ryan thought it would be proper for Trump to pardon anyone caught up in the Mueller investigation.

“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.

Because this is all a joke. Haha, so funny, having a mob boss running the country.

Rubenstein eventually touched down elsewhere, but the pardon question lingered, at least with me. It came off as a quintessential example of Ryan glibly blowing off what could be a monumental abuse of presidential power and a potentially gigantic crisis. I raised this in the car heading back to the Capitol. His eyes bulged for an instant, as if some defense enzyme had been released.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff,” Ryan said of the pardon issue.

“Shouldn’t you?” I said. It’s speculative, to a degree, I allowed. “But if you’re not going to touch that, who is?”

“I don’t think he’s going to do things like that,” Ryan said of Trump.

“He already has,” I said, referring to Trump’s pardoning of lawbreaking allies (Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza).

“No, I’m talking about firing and things like that,” Ryan said.

Trump has already done that too (James Comey) and has reportedly wanted to fire Mueller on at least two occasions. “My point is,” Ryan said, “and I’ve said it all along, Mueller should be able to do his job.”

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.”

I pointed out that if Trump fires Mueller, it might be too late for Ryan to do anything even if he wanted to, and the country could already be well into a constitutional crisis.

“I don’t think — ” Ryan began, then stopped. “He knows my opinion on these things.”

In other words he’s a worthless self-protecting Trump-enabling piece of shit.

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