Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) laughs as he listens to President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House on Sept. 5.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) laughs as he listens to President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House on Sept. 5.

Paul Ryan Played Dumb On Donald Trump All The Way To The End

The departing GOP House speaker leaves a legacy of willful ignorance.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hopes you’ll remember him as a deeply conservative leader who fought for tax reform and against special interests. But his refusal to take a stand against President Donald Trump ― even in the commander in chief’s darkest moments ― is a legacy he won’t soon shake.

As Ryan pats himself on the back for a job well done during his final weeks in office, an authoritarian-loving habitual liar sits behind the Resolute Desk with little rebuff from his party’s leaders.

Here are the some of Ryan’s most spineless moments in the Trump era:


Trump drew heated bipartisan backlash in August 2017 for his reaction to the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he initially defended attendees as “very fine people.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides ― on many sides,” the president had said, referring to neo-Nazis and anti-racist counterprotesters alike.

Days later, Ryan posted a searing condemnation of white supremacy on Facebook, though his post failed to call out the president’s initial defense of white nationalist rallygoers.

“The immediate condemnations from left, right and center affirmed that there is no confusion about right and wrong here,” Ryan wrote. “There are no sides. There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society.”

Opportunities for Ryan to publicly condemn Trump’s most controversial comments on race are boundless but rarely seized. Asked in October 2017 about Trump’s approach to race relations in the U.S., Ryan told CBS’ John Dickerson that he felt the president meant well.

“He’s learning,” Ryan said. “I know his heart is in the right place.”

‘Access Hollywood’ Tape

What most people assumed would be a fatal blow to then-candidate Trump’s presidential bid appeared to be nothing more than a passing disturbance to Ryan.

The infamous “Access Hollywood” audio recording, first published by The Washington Post and NBC News in October 2016, featured Trump bragging to then-host Billy Bush in 2005 about sexually assaulting women.

“I did try and fuck her,” Trump can be heard saying on the video in reference to an unnamed woman. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” he added. “You can do anything. ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Ryan immediately responded that he was “sickened” by the comments and uninvited Trump to a campaign event in Wisconsin.

“Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified,” Ryan had said in a statement. “I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”

But Ryan’s apparent disgust over what Trump dismissed as mere “locker room talk” didn’t move the House speaker to pull his endorsement of the admitted pussy grabber. And weeks after the “Access Hollywood” tape first made headlines, Ryan made it crystal clear just how affected he was by the comments by announcing that he had cast his ballot for Trump during early voting.

“We need to support our entire Republican ticket,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends.”

James Comey

Ryan shamelessly defended Trump’s alleged request of then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn by claiming the new president simply hadn’t gotten his feet wet in the job yet.

“The president’s new at this,” Ryan told reporters in June 2017. “He’s new to government. So, he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”

Trump’s comments to Comey, whom the president fired in May 2017, are now part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan smile at each other at a celebration in the White House Rose Garden after the House pushed through a health care bill on May 4, 2017.
President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan smile at each other at a celebration in the White House Rose Garden after the House pushed through a health care bill on May 4, 2017.

Vladimir Putin Press Conference

Trump raised eyebrows in July when he went easy on Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland.

“I hold both countries responsible,” Trump said when asked whether he held Russia accountable for anything in particular in regard to poor relations between the countries.

“I think the United States has been foolish,” Trump added. “I think we’ve all been foolish. I think we’re all to blame.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle slammed Trump for his lax stance toward Russia’s authoritarian regime. But Ryan was reserved in his reaction to Trump’s bizarre performance.

“I understand the desire and the need to have good relations,” Ryan said during a news conference a day later. “That’s perfectly reasonable. But Russia is a menacing government that does not share our interests and does not share our values. And I think that should be made very, very clear.”

The House speaker ducked a follow-up question on what Congress could do to prevent Trump from cozying up to Putin in the future.

‘Shithole’ Countries Remark

Trump sparked outrage when news broke that he had described Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries during a meeting with lawmakers in January.

Ryan, who told CBS just a few months earlier that Trump’s “heart is in the right place” on race relations, offered a mild denunciation of the president’s offensive rhetoric.

“The first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful,” Ryan said at the time, a far cry from his June 2016 response to then-candidate Trump attacking a federal judge because of his Mexican heritage.

“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan had said.

War On The Media

Trump’s unprecedented attacks on the “mainstream media,” which he often refers to as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” have prompted little public pushback from Ryan and other Republican leaders.

Ryan weighed in briefly in October 2017 after Trump threatened to challenge NBC’s broadcast licenses over what the president called “partisan” and “distorted” news coverage.

“I don’t always agree and like what you guys write,” Paul told reporters at the time. “But you have a right to do it, and I’m a constitutional conservative and I’m just going to leave it at that.”

And “leave it at that” Ryan essentially has ― even after Trump applauded a Republican congressman in October who assaulted a reporter last year.

“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy,” Trump had said at a rally in Montana in praise of Rep. Greg Gianforte.

And Ryan? Silent.