Paul Ryan: ‘Eunuch’ or ‘Powerhouse’?

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Paul Ryan: ‘Eunuch’ or ‘Powerhouse’?

Whatever becomes of Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, Republicans are going to continue to struggle with the class war unleashed this year within the once-staid Republican Party. (Photo: Getty)

House Speaker Paul Ryan is a servile political “eunuch” twisting himself to meet the capricious whims of Republican nominee Donald Trump, smirked Late Night host Stephen Colbert.

Yet Ryan is “the most powerful Republican politician in America,” according to the astute MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, a long-time observer of American politics.

So which is it? Actually, Ryan fits both descriptions. Shamelessly endorsing Trump despite repeated racist and inflammatory statements, Ryan wants to display just enough support for Trump in this campaign to avoid alienating Republican voters who oppose both “free trade” and immigration.

Ryan holds enormous power within the Republican establishment as Speaker of the House. And Ryan is a clear favorite of the Koch brothers and other members of the Republican donor class—and Trump needs some of those donors to raise money for the general election.

So Ryan and Trump have been engaged in a delicate dance, reflected in gestures like Trump’s delayed endorsement of Ryan in Ryan’s primary race. The purpose of this exercise: for each to balance crucial elements of their own economic philosophy with the other’s to produce a working alliance. Ryan is trying to  reconcile his longtime advocacy for traditional Republican economics—“free trade,” tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and deregulation—aimed at the GOP donor class, while adopting some of Trump’s anti-trade positions which have won him a following among white working-class voters.   

It’s interesting to watch the Republican establishment adjust to the economic grievances of voters they had long taken for granted.

The Trump revolt was provoked, in part, by “a party elite that abandoned its most faithful voters, blue-collar white Americans, who faced economic pain and uncertainty over the past decade as the party’s donors, lawmakers and lobbyists prospered,” writes Nicholas Confessore. (For more on this volcanic eruption, see here, here, here, and here.)

On Monday, Ryan finally jettisoned his long-standing support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership which he championed, citing technical flaws in the deal while maintaining support for “free trade” in principle:

"I don't think there's a high likelihood (the TPP will pass) . . . We don't have the votes to pass it because people like me have problems with some significant provisions of it that we believe need to get fixed . . . But here's the point: we do need trade agreements. I know a lot of people say just get rid of trade agreements, don't do trade agreements, and that's terrible. That's a problem for us."

Ryan’s abandonment of the TPP did not come easily, despite public sentiment in his district, which includes three factory towns devastated by the flight of manufacturing aided by NAFTA. City councils in two of these cities passed anti-TPP resolutions, and Ryan faced a vocal pro-Trump, anti-TPP primary opponent, whom he demolished Tuesday.

Trump, for his part, moved closer to Ryan in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, in which he promoted a Ryan-style program of deregulation, massive tax cuts for corporations and the top 1 percent, along with rollbacks of environmental rules designed to cope with global warming.

Ryan and Trump have reached an uneasy truce, but we can count on a longer-running battle over the party’s future, regardless of how Trump fares in November.

Barely a week before he announced his opposition to the TPP, Ryan delivered a scathing attack on the populist politics pushed by the party’s working-class interlopers led by Trump.  Ryan spoke at a lavish Colorado resort to a group of 400 major Republican donors who had each given to the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a network promoted by the Koch brothers.

Avoiding mention of Trump, whom few of the donors seemed to be supporting, Ryan promised important pro-corporate victories if the Republicans can retain control of Congress. “We’ve got to win some of these fights in Washington on behalf of the free-market system. We have our work cut out for us,” Ryan declared.

The audience was very receptive to his call for an expansion of the “free trade” deals he has championed, despite the fact that U.S. firms are increasing overseas employment while cutting jobs at home.

“US multinational corporations that employ 20 percent of all US workers, are increasingly hiring overseas workers,” reports the Wall Street Journal:

 “The companies cut their workforces in the United States by 2.9 million during the 2000s, while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.”

Ryan warned his well-heeled audience about danger posed by “progressivism,” including support for “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“We are flirting with various forms of progressivism, and there are Republican forms of progressivism,” Ryan said. “Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican. We have to thoroughly debunk it, repudiate it.”

The House speaker, who is a favorite of the Koch donor network, “was received with a standing ovation and whoops,” the Washington Post reported. “The audience interrupted him several times with hearty applause.”

But while Republican donors applaud job-killing “free trade” deals and massive tax cuts for corporations and the super-wealthy, Republican voters are headed in a different direction. The demand to address economic injustice by working-class and small-business Republicans will persist after the November election.

Whatever becomes of Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, Republicans are going to continue to struggle with the class war unleashed this year within the once-staid Republican Party.

Roger Bybee

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Common Dreams, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus.

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