First as Tragedy, Then as Trump

Donald Trump Takes Out Paul Ryan, and ‘It’s Going to Be a Civil War’

Everything Trump touches dies, and the speaker’s legacy is no exception.


Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

The news that Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress was received by grim-faced members of the GOP caucus finally realizing what they’ve done, and what’s coming. Ryan pulled the ripcord Wednesday after a 19-year career in Congress, declaring he would leave Washington at the end of his current term to spend more time with his existential angst over what he let Donald Trump do to our country.

The happy talk about holding the House is over. The spin for the press, the rubes, and the donor class just came to a shrieking halt. Nancy Pelosi is in her crone cavern, cackling with glee, knowing that the Democrats are now in play in almost 80 congressional seats. The general of the House Republican army just announced he’s leaving the field just as the tide of political war looks most grim.

Ryan and his caucus hoped to run on the tax cut, the economy, and infrastructure. All of these messages now will be swept aside. Ryan owns his share of the blame; too often, he behaved as if he was some deferential junior VP at a Trump resort and not the leader of the House of Representatives in a co-equal branch of government. The idea, popular among the House leadership, that a diet of ass-kissing and deference would make Trump into a normal president who didn’t need the political equivalent of Depends was always a strategic mistake.

Ryan is now paying the price. The rest of his caucus will pay in the fall.

The election season will now feature a Republican leadership fight with all the reality-TV tropes we’ve come to expect in this vulgar, stupid age, as it inevitably devolves into a shabby bidding war over who will be more amenable and obedient to Donald Trump. The purity tests from Fox News, the screeching teenagers in the Donnie Trump Tiger Beat Breitbart Fan Club, and Trump himself will ensure this contest—like every damn thing in America today—is All About Him.

Ryan’s unfulfilled agenda, including entitlement reform, is now a dead letter, along with the hopes so many in the conservative movement had reposed in him. The Kochs and dozens of other free-market folks were invested in Paul Ryan’s future. Those investments were squandered like Granny’s Social Security check at the Trump Taj Mahal. Regardless of who succeeds Ryan, the agenda of limited-government conservatism based on fiscal probity, personal responsibility, free trade, and limited government is as dead as Donald Trump’s marriage.

A top Ryan aide texted me this morning: “It’s going to be a civil war. No one knows how bad this will get. Kevin [McCarthy] is such a fucking moron he’s going to get rolled by Pelosi every day. FML.”

Another Ryan insider echoed the “civil war” sentiment, and noted that Ryan’s decision will set off still another wave of Republican retirements.

This week marked the final surrender of the GOP on the central economic issues of our time: the debt and entitlement reform. Did our talk ever truly match our walk when it came to the economy? Not as often as I’d like, and I’m sure Ryan feels the same.

Still, he was a fluent translator of Conservative to English, a bridge between Hayek and hope. He lacked the needy edge and insecurities so evident in this president and so beloved of the new GOP. Ryan had been the endpoint of a conservative philosophical movement that combined Jack Kemp’s optimism about growth, opportunity, economic freedom, and the value of work with a profound understanding of the painful need to reform how the federal government operates.

Kiss that goodbye. Trump’s economic message is profoundly, inalterably negative, defensive, small, and bitter. It’s about how stupid Americans are, and how the wily Chinese and murderous Mexicans are stealing from us, tricking us, and robbing us blind.

His base is conditioned to having their fear centers endlessly stimulated by his constant drip of apocalyptic, conspiratorial rhetoric and fed hazy promises of the creation of walls, the smiting of the Asians, the launching of trade wars, and the kicking of asses.

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The collapse of the economic leg of the GOP’s coalition is complete. We’re now the party of Credit Card Don, the King of Debt. Our base worships a man whose own Bhagavad Gita reads: “Now I become Debt, destroyer of Republicans.”

The trillions in new spending, the blowout tax bill’s monstrous costs, and Trump’s moron-grade nationalism and state capitalism mean the ideal of making government smaller, smarter, and better is over. It was one thing to talk about dynamic scoring and positive job growth based on the tax cut. It was quite another to predict levels of growth approaching asymptotic.

The grunting, pig-ignorant Trumpentariat types are doing their usual ranting street-preacher genius analysis of the situation, declaring you’ve triggered duh libs and now Ryan will be replaced with a speaker who, as the Trump Constitution clearly states, will behave with properly knee-padded deference to President for Life Kim Jong Don. They see this as the greatest possible loss for the hated establishment, a draining of the swamp.

Those poor, dumb bastards.

First, Ryan’s departure just pulled the plug on the most powerful and successful legislative fundraising machine the Republican Party has ever known. For all the bitching from the Purity Posse crew about Ryan and the lobbyists, they sure were happy when he was passing money to them through the NRCC or his own campaign committee. To quote the great Chuck Yeager, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Donald Trump won’t save his party’s House majority. In fact, the more he becomes the center of the discussion for the members still running in 2018, the worse the ground looks for the GOP. All that’s left is hope that the Democratic Party’s notoriously terrible campaign operation can find a way to screw up the gift they’ve been given.

The rubes still think Trumpism sells. It doesn’t, outside of the deepest deep-red seats. They seem to honestly believe that in the 25 swing seats where Donald Trump is as well-liked as a case of genital herpes that muh wall and MS-13 TV ads are going to save the majority.

They still think that races are won with MAGA hats and badly photoshopped Hillary Pizzagate memes. They conflate Trump’s Russian-supported, celebrity-driven win against the luckless, joyless Hillary with actual campaigning.

History repeats, first as tragedy, then as Trump. This is the Watergate pattern writ large. In 1973, Republicans were screaming that the investigation was nothing but a Fake New Witch Hunt. They lost 49 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1974, two months after Nixon resigned.

Everything Trump touches dies, and Paul Ryan’s legacy is no exception.