EJ Dionne writes:
Ryan has been driven by two priorities throughout his career: slashing taxes on the best-off Americans, and eviscerating social-welfare and safety-net programs in the name of “entitlement reform.” Whatever advanced these objectives was worth doing….
Although Ryan gave warm speeches about compassion, his biggest fear was not that the poor might go without food or health care but, as he once said, that the “safety net” might “become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.”
He later backed away from Rand and acknowledged that the hammock was “the wrong analogy.” But his policies suggested he never abandoned his core faith: If the wealthy did best when given positive incentives in the form of more money, the less fortunate needed to be prodded by less generous social policies into taking responsibility for their own fate.
Given where Ryan’s passions lie, it is unsurprising that he would prop Trump up as long as the president was willing to embrace a modern-day social Darwinism that married efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act with reductions in government’s impositions on the managers and owners of capital. The retiring speaker really does believe that this is the path to the good society. To pursue it, he’ll take help wherever he can get it.
Jonathan Chait writes:
Ryan submitted himself fully to the president. As House Speaker, Ryan has played an indispensable role in insulating Trump from public and legal accountability. Ryan has buried votes that would compel the release of Trump’s tax returns, and unleashed Devin Nunes to run a counter-investigation designed to discredit the Department of Justice and ultimately clear the way for Trump to halt the probe of Russian interference on his behalf.
This has not gone the exact way Ryan would have liked. In his perfect world, Republicans would run on tax cuts, carry out deep cuts to social insurance programs, and everyone in America would be devouring editorials from The Wall Street Journal. But political reality demands compromises. And those constraints have forced Ryan to choose what really matters to him: the protection of the makers from the predations of the takers.
The critics who flay Ryan as a coward have never understood that his actions are a form of idealism. To Ryan, the greatest danger to liberty lies not in a president who defies the rule of law but in high tax rates and a functioning social safety net. When Ryan speaks with pride about the policy accomplishments he helped carry out with Trump, he is not spinning. In Ryan’s worldview, he has struck a powerful blow for liberty against the socialist hordes. Ryan leaves his endangered majority convinced he has done his job well. It is a triumph of his own propaganda that so few people believe he is actually sincere about this.
Jonathan Cohn and Arthur Delaney write:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has spent the better part of his political career trying to shred America’s social safety net, so that literally tens of millions of Americans would lose supports they use to get food, health care and pay their most basic bills.
Ryan, who announced Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election this fall, mostly hasn’t succeeded in this effort. But he has left an indelible impact on the Republican Party’s identity.
As an architect of the GOP’s budget blueprints, its vice presidential nominee in 2012 and the leader of the House’s majority caucus since 2015, Ryan has laid out a detailed, sweeping agenda of lower taxes and government spending. If ever fully enacted, it would arguably amount to the most radical domestic policy overhaul since the mid-1960s.
Ryan’s one big victory was on taxes ― he was instrumental in writing and passing the bill that President Donald Trump signed late last year. It will dramatically reduce what the wealthiest Americans pay, realizing one of Ryan’s long-held dreams.
But so far, at least, Republicans haven’t privatized Medicare, repealed the Affordable Care Act, or transformed programs like food stamps into smaller, state-run initiatives. And while most Republicans still endorse these proposals, the public does not.
Ultimately, that could be Ryan’s true legacy: Tethering his party to an extreme, deeply conservative agenda that the public rejects, starting with the November midterm elections….
After the 2012 presidential election, Ryan made a concerted effort to put the makers-and-takers rhetoric behind. He traveled the country visiting private-sector charities that rehabilitated drug addicts and helped them find jobs.
But his agenda never really changed.
The poverty tour resulted in a book and a new policy pitch that simply applied the “welfare reform” playbook to all federal poverty programs, albeit with a greater emphasis on case management for poor people.
And just last year, during a public discussion of Medicaid with National Review editor Rich Lowry, he remarked that “we’ve been dreaming” about cuts to such social programs “since you and I were drinking out of a keg.”