I wish I could say that former House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke truth to power. But power won’t pay any attention.
In a speech Thursday at the Reagan Library he called the Capitol insurrection “dishonorable and disgraceful.”
“Once again, we conservatives find ourselves at a crossroads,” Ryan continued. “And here’s the reality that we have to face: If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere. Voters looking for Republican leaders want to see independence and mettle. They will not be impressed by the sight of yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago.”
That was an obvious and well-deserved shot at his successor, Kevin McCarthy, who flew to Florida to kiss Trump’s ring shortly after the insurrection. But Ryan is wrong. Not only will Republican voters be impressed by displays of loyalty to Trump, they will demand it. Conversely, displays of independence and mettle will be severely punished.
“If we fail this test, it will be because the progressive left will have won by default,” he said. “It will be because the conservative cause … lost its way and followed the left into the trap of identity politics, defining itself by resentments instead of by ideals. It will be because we mistake reactionary skirmishes in the culture wars with a coherent agenda. It will be because we gave too much allegiance to one passing political figure and weren’t loyal enough to our principles.”
I added the emphasis because it seems to me that identity politics — whether it’s the white nationalist variety practiced by the GOP or the multi-cultural strain followed by Democrats — is a cancer on our society. Appealing to voters based on skin color or gender divides us, whereas appealing to them on ideas at least has the potential for persuasion.
The hard-right wasted little time dismissing Ryan.
According to a story in the Associated Press, “one of Trump’s most vocal allies on Capitol Hill, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., lashed out at Ryan on Twitter ahead of the speech. “It really is amazing that Paul Ryan, who is the reason the GOP lost the House in 2018, is going to come out today and blame Trump for the problems in the GOP,” she said, adding a shot at another Trump critic, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “Paul, the problem is you and your pal Liz.””
Expect more to follow. With the exception of Cheney, Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger and a few others, Republicans with active political careers have decided that they must be Trump sycophants, no matter what they really think of him.
And then the hard-left will pile on, as they did with Cheney, accusing Ryan of having been and continuing to be a conservative, and of not being critical enough of Trump while he was Speaker. The hard-left demands that Republicans speak out against Trump… and then attacks them when they do.
Still, Ryan displayed some courage here. He ended any hope he might have had of a future run for office. Had he played the game of paying tribute to Trump, he would have had a shot at a U.S. Senate seat or the governor’s office. He chose to say the obvious truth out loud and, these day, in both parties that counts as a profile in courage.