Paul Ryan always gets more credit than he deserves. During Ryan’s time as House Budget Committee chair, DC pundits lavished praise and attention on him, portraying him as a sensible budget wonk pushing “serious” policy ideas. In fact, he has always been a far-right, highly ideological politician with one goal: Slash taxes for the super-rich and corporations, and pay for it by destroying Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Now that Ryan is Speaker of the House and Donald Trump is president, DC conventional wisdom is settling on a new image of Ryan: A spineless coward unwilling to condemn Trump’s outrageous actions. That’s a much less flattering image than his very serious budget wonk persona, but it’s still far more than Ryan deserves. It takes for granted that deep in his heart, Ryan opposes Trump’s behavior and that if only the Speaker could find the courage, he would disavow the president.
The truth is far more sinister. Ryan is just fine with Trump’s Muslim ban, and his nomination of a racist for attorney general, and all the rest of the horror show. In fact, all of that is extremely useful to him. While the nation is focused on the Bannon White House’s disgusting policies and actions, Ryan can slip his own agenda, which is equally deplorable but more mundane, under the radar. Ryan himself is not the agent of chaos, but he’s happy to thrive on it.
The pundits imploring Ryan to stand up to Trump might get their wish — if Trump ever decides that he cares about keeping the promise to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that he made over and over again during his campaign. Banning a four-month-old baby who needs open heart surgery from entering our country is just fine with Ryan. But blocking his plan to force millions of seniors into poverty and an early grave? Now that’s a bridge too far!
But Trump’s actions so far indicate that a confrontation with Ryan over the earned benefits he promised to save might never actually happen. Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, is a close Ryan ally who has spent years working to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. So are Rep. Tom Price, his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, his nominee for Budget Director.
Since the election, Trump has walked back his promise to protect Medicaid and hasn’t said a word about Social Security or Medicare. Meanwhile, Ryan has made it very clear that he intends to move full steam ahead on destroying Medicare and the head of the House Social Security Subcommittee has introduced a bill to gut Social Security.
There is a spineless, cowardly puppet in Washington. But his name isn’t Paul Ryan. It’s Donald Trump, the man who appears willing to betray millions of Americans who voted for him by standing aside, and providing a cover of chaos, while Ryan guts the vital programs they depend on.