Just after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan officially declared Donald Trump and Mike Pence as the new standard bearers of GOP to the half-empty Quicken Loans Arena, he clapped his hands just long enough to be appropriate and exited the stage.
Such has been Ryan’s role this election.
He returned to the stage later after a hodgepodge of speakers that included the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and a subpar professional golfer—to call for unity.
A lot has changed since Ryan occupied a stage in Tampa as the same party’s vice-presidential nominee.
“You know, standing up here again, it all has a familiar feel. Students of trivia will recall that last time around I was your nominee for vice president. It was a great honor, even if things didn’t work out quite according to plan,” Ryan said.
No. No, they certainly did not.
“Democracy is a series of choices,” he said. “We Republicans have made ours.”
And that’s why four short years later, as speaker of the House, Ryan has found himself with a warped Solomon’s Choice: cut the party in half, or give it to a crazy person and hope for the best.
Initially, he tried to delay the inevitable handover of the party.
After Trump secured the nomination, Ryan resisted endorsing him, saying Trump needed to earn his support by acting like a statesman who could help the Republican Party.
But a month later, Ryan quietly announced in a local newspaper he was handing over the GOP to a man who joined it just a few years ago.
On Tuesday evening, Ryan did his very best to overcome the fact the party he dedicated his life to was in the custody of crazy, giving a speech about the need for the GOP to assert itself again to help turn around policies that the party he once led believes hurt the country.
“Progressives like our president talk forever about poverty in America. And if high-sounding talk did any good, we’d have overcome these deep problems long ago,” he said. “This explains why, under the most liberal president we’ve had so far, poverty in America is worse, especially for our fellow citizens who were promised better and need it most.”
He widened his dreamy blue eyes—set to stun with his matching blue tie—and talked about how progressive policies have left the poor behind, as members of the audience chattered in full voice (except for his home delegation of Wisconsin, who stood at attention).
“Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way,” Ryan said, as those in the convention hall perked up as they heard their leaders’ names. “And, last, let the other party go on and on with its constant dividing up of people… always playing one group against the other, as if group identity were everything.”
He wrapped up the speech with a plea for unity—to the establishment Republicans he once represented (who were likely watching from home or not at all) and those just a few feet beneath him on the convention floor.
“So what do you say we unite this party, at this crucial moment when unity is everything?” he asked.
“Let’s take the fight to our opponents with better ideas—let’s get on the offensive and let’s stay there.
“Fellow Republicans, what we have begun here, let’s see it through… let’s win this thing… let’s show America our best and nothing less.”
And with that, he clapped his hands, nodded his head firmly, and strode off stage.