After weeks of speculation, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) finally revealed that he will be voting for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a column published in his local newspaper. As he would have voters understand it, he finally came down off the fence after being convinced that Trump would pass his party-line agenda.
Ryan’s agenda clearly outlines what he has believed in for years. His goals of revamping the tax code, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, rolling back executive power, curtailing business regulations and developing foreign policy to keep Americans safe are all hallmarks of modern conservatism.
What Trump has offered on every one of these issues contradicts the Republican orthodoxy so much that no sensible observer should conclude that he’ll blindly sign any bill placed on his desk. In endorsing him, Ryan has abandoned his post as the defender of small government for nothing in return.
On taxes, Trump has argued for both increasing rates for the wealthiest earners and passing a plan that would increase the deficit by close to $10 billion. One of the GOP preeminent voices on foreign policy, senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has derided his foreign policy platform as “nonsensical.” While he has supported cutting regulations — especially supporting repealing Obamacare — he specifically called Ryan’s insistence on cutting Medicare and Social Security spending a losing strategy, despite entitlement cuts being the primary way Republicans seek to fund tax cuts like Trump’s.
Immediately after he clinched the Republican nomination, Trump argued that his past proposals were just suggestions, saying on the Today show that he was “totally flexible on very, very many issues.” While those like Ryan may assume this means he’ll stray from his outlandish statements to be a more consistent Republican, the timing of the statement seems to suggest he’s more likely to drift away from the conservative stances he took in the primary. He has specifically argued that he doesn’t need GOP unification, and his most consistent claim on the campaign trail is that he needs to be the one negotiating America’s future, details be damned.
Ryan is no unprincipled man. As his column makes clear, his career rests on reducing the size of government, attacking what he believes to be “government more out for itself than the people it serves” and seeking to give Americans “a better way to help lift people out of poverty and into lives of self-determination.”
Newly unsealed Trump University documents have only highlighted how Trump has sought to do exactly the opposite. Ex-staffer Ronald Schnackenberg testified that he was reprimanded for not trying harder to sell a couple a $35,000 session they could not afford and said the organization “preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” Trump’s suggestion that he would profit off of Trump University during his presidency takes government out for itself to an entirely new level.
In March, Ryan addressed a group of House interns on the state of American politics. He took a hard line against negative policies and for principles, telling them “the American people deserve a clear picture of what we believe.” Eventually, Trump will be pressured into sharing what he actually believes. If people like Ryan continue to bend under partisan pressure with nothing in return, that day may come too late. But today, Ryan has told America loud and clear that he stands for nothing.
Chase is a Plan II and Economics enior. He is the editor-in-chief. Follow him on Twitter @alexwchase.