Faced with the extraordinary circumstance of a president who refuses either to release his tax returns or to divest his business holdings, Republicans have devised a series of creative explanations for why Donald Trump is entitled to behave like a kleptocrat. Paul Ryan, on the other hand, has no use for creative defenses of kleptocracy. He is satisfied with uncreative ones. To wit, Ryan is happy to allow unlimited conflicts of interest and potential for Trumpian self-enrichment as long as Trump signs Ryan’s bills:
“This is not what I’m concerned about in Congress,” Ryan said Wednesday during an interview on CNBC. “I have every bit of confidence he’s going to get himself right with moving from being the business guy that he is to the president he’s going to become.”
Ryan praised Trump for “basically saying let’s just go unify this party, unify this country, get things done.” …
“That is what I’m focused on,” he said, “and not the legal details of how he divorces himself from his business, which I know he will.”
The bottom line, according to Ryan, is that Trump should handle his massive, undisclosed conflicts of interest “however he wants to.”
Ryan does say he has “confidence” in Trump to avoid self-enrichment, which is a comical statement. Governments don’t run on trusting leaders to do the right thing when nobody is looking. They’re supposed to have mechanisms of accountability. And what president-elect has provided less grounds for confidence in his lack of pecuniary motive than Donald Trump? This is a man who has engaged in business with organized crime domestically, and with corrupt regimes abroad, who routinely refuses to pay money he owes, who has engaged in flagrant self-dealing, and who habitually lies about absolutely everything. If Ryan has confidence Trump would not use his power for personal gain, what possible leader would give him pause?
The answer, of course, is a leader who isn’t ready to sign some big tax cuts for the rich. And that’s what Ryan’s answer says. Asked about Trump’s blatant conflicts of interest, Ryan just says over and over he is focusing instead on “fixing the country’s big problems.” High taxes on the rich and excessively generous social spending on the poor are big problems. Kleptocratic government is not.
Liberals have been saying that the Republican Party is going to be held together by a devils’ bargain, in which Trump gives Ryan his core economic agenda, and Ryan gives Trump a free hand to corrupt American government as he sees fit. What’s amazing is that Ryan is now basically saying the same thing.