Knowing how to do something and watching someone else botch it is frustrating. Only thinking you know how to do something just makes things worse. Then you think something can be done when it really cannot, making someone else's failure harder to take. Sports fans suffer from this constantly.
I have never met soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. I read in the papers he either is a policy wonk or thinks he is. He preached the political possibility of balancing the federal budget by cutting both programs and taxes. I utterly disbelieved him, but now will never know.
Ryan fell in line like a good Republican after his party threw away the best chance it is ever likely to get to nominate a like-minded president and still win an election. A good soldier in a terrible cause, Ryan kept the ranks. He mightily helped pass bills guaranteeing the return of trillion-dollar deficits for the foreseeable future.
These results utterly negated everything Ryan professed to believe for his entire political life. He made them his legacy.
Then Ryan became the second House speaker in a row to do a Snagglepuss -- "Exit, stage left." He announced Thursday he will not seek re-election. I predict he will be as happy and vindicated in his decision as John Boehner is, soon if not already.
Boehner left in 2015, pretty much declaring the GOP majority to be ungovernable. Boehner would be the smartest man in Washington if he were still in it.
Ryan said Thursday he never wanted the speaker's job and was going home. I believe him -- because that much was true when he took the job after Boehner left. So there has to be something more. That something is likely the president.
The president is none of the things Paul Ryan is or ever pretended to be: A wonk, a family man, religious, virtuous and a Republican.
The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives must be, among other things, a high-profile defender of a president from his own party -- or a deflector at least. The political and moral damage the speaker and the rest of the GOP must suffer as they keep defending this president will be severe. This is simply not rationally deniable any more. Some will argue the attacks on the president are all unjustified. OK. Even if that were true, the attacks still succeed. The house is still burning. The smoke is still billowing. Now the flames are visible through the roof.
The second speaker of the House during an enduring GOP majority called it quits within two and a half years while still healthy and quite electable. That is fire breaking through the roof, especially when the second one leaves the field when the team is clearly, openly in a severe struggle to stay in the majority -- and one of the biggest challenges to keeping that majority is the sheer number of people leaving the field.
Here are two prospects. Ryan is now more free to defend the president and can now focus his attention on that. He burned his boats, so to speak. The other prospect is that his heart is simply no longer in this task. I believe the second.
Ryan did not want to be Speaker. It is a safe bet he is even less inclined to be a minority member. Not minority leader, please note. He could never win that post even if he wanted it if the GOP loses the majority.
The GOP survived the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession. It will survive this president. Part of me suspects the "establishment" GOP is following the same plan that did not work in the primary. They await the self-destruction of the man in front. If he sinks the populist revolt in the party too and puts the establishment back in charge, so much the better as far as they are concerned. I do not believe Ryan wants to be there during the wrecking, however.
The president could survive anything in the closed world of a GOP primary. In the real world, he cannot cope. For instance, he has still not learned that firing high-ranking people in the Justice Department only grants them the freedom to speak openly. He never will.
Defending the president is a fool's errand. Even knowing as little about Ryan as I do, I can tell: He is no fool.
Commentary on 04/14/2018
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