Paul Ryan has spent the half-year since Donald Trump won the nomination carefully preserving the personal brand as a thoughtful, earnest, compassionate policy wonk he has buffed in the national media to an expert shine. The painstaking effort has forced Ryan to endorse the nominee, and position himself to influence his agenda if he’s elected, while emitting unspoken signals of discomfort that would protect him from contamination.
Unfortunately for Ryan, he seems to have done the job a bit too well. The Republican base, which likes Trump and loathes traitors, has grown agitated with his too-good-for-Trump routine. The House Freedom Caucus has renewed its periodic coup threat against his Speakership. And now Ryan can’t stop talking about how excited he is to support Donald Trump for president. Ryan has said that he personally voted for Trump, wrote an op-ed endorsing him, enthused to right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt about Trump’s plan to call a special session of Congress to repeal Obamacare, and has been tweeting regularly about his support for the entire Republican ticket:
It’s become fashionable to mock this as disingenuous or a failure of character. The trouble with this complaint is that it superimposes upon Ryan a set of beliefs held by the national media that he has never shared. Ryan’s moderate and liberal admirers assume he defines freedom in the same liberal way they do, and therefore must find the prospect of a Trump presidency as alarming. Or they define him by his affect. (“He exercises and he’s careful about his diet and he’s a policy nerd and he’s polite and he’s kind of proper,” says Ira Glass, mystified that a man with those qualities is voting for a candidate who supports his agenda but has a different lifestyle.)
Ryan is a committed Randian ideologue who has devoted his entire career to curtailing the redistribution of income. Freeing up rich people and business owners from the burden of regulation and progressive taxation is Ryan’s idea of what liberty really means. When Ryan says things like Hillary Clinton’s America is “a place where liberty is always under assault, where passion—the very stuff of life—is extinguished,” he means it.
If Trump wins, he needs Trump to sign his laws. If Trump loses, he needs Trump’s supporters not to blame him, so that he can manage the House and maintain his leadership in the party. He’s supporting Trump not because he’s a coward or uncommitted to the vision of governing he proclaims, but precisely because he is committed to it.