Politico has a detailed report on Paul Ryan’s plans, which involve probable retirement at the end of the congressional term, unless the House Freedom Caucus manages to purge him first. (An aide, asked about retirement, offers a non-denial denial.) A major part of Ryan’s motivation is that, as Matt Fuller reported last night, he has achieved his life’s ambition by passing a gigantic tax cut for the affluent. But Politico also explains that Ryan hopes to end his tenure in a blaze of Randian glory.
“Ryan, should he secure his final year in office, will use it to pursue the type of dramatic, politically risky entitlement reforms that Trump explicitly ruled out while running for president,” the article reports. This would certainly give some context to Ryan’s persistent efforts to talk President Trump into going along with huge cuts to popular social-insurance programs. Nobody has explained how Ryan is going to get the Senate to pass cuts to Medicare, which is even more popular than Obamacare, which he tried and failed to cut. The cuts may focus on more vulnerable programs targeted to the very poor, like nutrition and housing assistance. It would be a final, fittingly Ryan-esque blow against the takers after having returned to the makers a large chunk of their hard-earned, or hard-inherited, wealth. But even that will be a difficult task in a chamber that will soon have just 51 Republicans.
The story also helps contextualize Ryan’s relationship with Trump. Like many Republican politicians, Ryan never cared for Trump’s style and considered him a sure-fire loser who would drag the party down with him. He has retained his reputation as a man of some higher principle — “an intellectual and an idealist,” Chris Wallace calls him today — among people who find Trump distasteful. Politico’s explanation for why he flipped is very simple and exactly what most of us have suspected all along. In Trump, Ryan saw a chance to pass his beloved agenda:
Ryan faced a legacy-shaping decision that night: Stay true to himself and step down as speaker, or muzzle himself and serve alongside Trump in a unified GOP government. It was a no-brainer: This was Ryan’s chance to actually achieve the things he had only fantasized about. Even if that meant getting in bed with the likes of Trump and Bannon. And even if that meant accommodating behavior from a Republican president that he would never tolerate from a Democrat. It was a tradeoff Ryan could not refuse. It was, in the refrain of the speaker’s allies, “Paul’s deal with the devil,” one that he would make all over again.
The earnest image Ryan has always cultivated includes professions of interest in bipartisanship. However, Politico notes, “Ryan could not stomach the thought of working with President Hillary Clinton.” Working with an authoritarian bigot who would sign his bills was more palatable. Ryan’s beliefs about the immorality of economic redistribution are his highest political ethic. He may care about things like assaulting women, textbook examples of racism, and the president being secretly paid by Russia. But he cares more about economic liberty, which boils down to protecting the makers from the takers.