Media outlets and figures from across the political spectrum criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for refusing to condemn Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in his March 23 speech where he called for “elevating the national political discourse.” According to media figures, Ryan's refusal to condemn Trump amounts to a “tacit acceptance” and “de facto endorsement.”
Paul Ryan Calls For “Elevating National Political Discourse”
Paul Ryan Calls For Better Political Discourse In Speech Without Mentioning Trump. In a March 23 speech, House Speaker Paul Ryan “called for elevating the national political discourse,” saying that “Our political discourse--both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other--did not used to be this bad and it does not have to be this way.” Ryan “was careful not to pin the blame on any specific politicians, avoiding any mention of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump,” according to The Wall Street Journal:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) called for elevating the national political discourse in a year when the Republican presidential campaign fight has often descended into bitter personal feuds.
“We think of [politics] in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults,” Mr. Ryan said in a speech Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, where he formerly presided as chairman. “If someone has a bad idea, we don't think they're a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea.”
In the speech to House interns, Mr. Ryan was careful not to pin the blame on any specific politicians, avoiding any mention of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump; his main rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; or any Democrats. Mr. Ryan's remarks centered on refocusing the political debate on policy and away from the clash of personalities that has dominated the 2016 White House race.
“Our political discourse--both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other--did not used to be this bad and it does not have to be this way,” Mr. Ryan said. [The Wall Street Journal,3/23/16]
Media Criticize Ryan For Not Condemning Trump In His Speech
Washington Post Editorial: Ryan “Continues To Be Another Not-So-Innocent Bystander” To Trump's Rise. Following his speech, The Washington Post's editorial board criticized Ryan for “not directly confront[ing]” Trump, who the Post called “the chief threat” to having “a more reasonable political debate” in America. The Post added “it is a shame” that Ryan “has not repudiated Mr. Trump and promised to oppose him,” and as such he “continues to be another not-so-innocent bystander as his party slides toward Trumpism”:
DECLARING THAT “we shouldn't accept ugliness as the norm,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a fine speech Wednesday on the tenor of the nation's politics, calling on political leaders as well as ordinary Americans to aspire to a more reasonable debate. Unfortunately, Mr. Ryan did not directly confront the chief threat to that goal: GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Mr. Ryan's lofty oratory alone will not clean him or his party of Mr. Trump's moral tarnish.
While Mr. Ryan warns against playing identity politics and appealing to people's anxieties, Mr. Trump this week continued to exploit fear of Muslims and illegal immigrants, calling to “close up our borders,” warning that immigrants “could be ISIS” and arguing, with scant evidence, that the Belgium terrorist attack might have been prevented if Western authorities had tortured a captured extremist.
While Mr. Ryan calls for focusing on substance, Mr. Trump has run a uniquely substanceless campaign, telling us Monday that his solution to inner-city poverty was “giving them spirit.” While Mr. Ryan attacks gutter politics, Mr. Trump defended his comments on the size of his hands and other organs by saying he “had to do it” because Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) “started it.”
Given the gaping divergence between Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump on essential civic values, it is a wonder that these two men remain in the same party. It is more than a wonder -- it is a shame -- that Mr. Ryan has not repudiated Mr. Trump and promised to oppose him. Doing so would have made clear that Mr. Ryan puts the principles he advanced before partisan loyalty and political calculation, where they firmly belong. Instead, Mr. Ryan continues to be another not-so-innocent bystander as his party slides toward Trumpism. [The Washington Post, 3/23/16]
Washington Post's Dana Milbank Slammed Ryan's “Cowardly Neutrality On Trump.” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank criticized Ryan for not “denouncing [Trump], or even saying he won't support [him]” in his speech, even though Trump is a “xenophobe who makes scapegoats of racial and religious minorities” and “is threatening to take over the Republican Party and to throw the country into turmoil.” By refusing to condemn Trump, noted Milbank, “Ryan is making a corrupt bargain. There is no neutrality between good and evil”:
Ryan went out of his way to distribute blame. “How many of you find yourself shaking your head at what you see from both sides of the aisle?” he asked.
That, Mr. Speaker, is weak.
There is, in general, plenty of bad behavior on all sides. But the current crisis is very specific: A xenophobe who makes scapegoats of racial and religious minorities is threatening to take over the Republican Party and to throw the country into turmoil -- and Ryan isn't denouncing him, or even saying he won't support Trump.
Ryan, I believe, is a decent man. His aides tell me he's in a tight spot, and it's true: As chairman of the Republican convention, he will be the enforcer of rules if Trump's claim to the nomination is challenged -- hence Ryan's desire, as he puts it, “to be Switzerland, to be neutral and dispassionate.” Also, he clearly would, despite his demurrals, like to be the consensus nominee.
But to preserve his neutrality, and his presidential prospects, Ryan is making a corrupt bargain. There is no neutrality between good and evil.
Ryan, owning his establishment manacles, recalled that it was “a big deal” to be on Ways and Means. “We treated each other with respect. . . . We disagreed without being disagreeable,” he said, contrasting that with the toxic discourse undermining government. “We don't have to accept it, and we cannot enable it,” Ryan said.
Yet Ryan IS enabling it. “What role do you think members of Congress have in bringing the nation together?” one of the interns asked.
“It is not our job simply to say we are just as angry as the rest of everybody else, to put gas on the fire,” he said. At another point, he asserted: “I think how we conduct ourselves is very important, and we set an example and lead by example.”
Right. But leading by example means denouncing and disowning the demagogue in our midst. This is no time to play Switzerland. [The Washington Post, 3/23/16]
Reason: Ryan's Speech Was A “Tacit Acceptance” Of Trump. Reason's Peter Suderman blasted “Ryan's refusal to criticize Trump by name,” saying it “gives Trump a pass.” Suderman wrote that Ryan did “little to meaningfully address the Trump-poisoned state of American politics, or of Ryan's own party,” and as such, the speech “constituted a kind of tacit acceptance of the GOP frontrunner's campaign, which it ultimately serves to enable”:
The framing of the announcement raised expectations that Ryan, who has made several speeches indirectly criticizing Trumpish behavior but has also indicated that he would back the candidate if he became the party's presidential nominee, might finally address Trump directly. Which, of course, would be a big deal given that Ryan is, in addition to being the Speaker of the House, arguably the institutional voice of the party right now, its chief spokesperson and visionary.
But Ryan did no such thing. He didn't mention Trump by name at all, and he didn't raise many of the biggest concerns people have about Trump and his campaign. Instead, he waxed nostalgic about his political mentor, Jack Kemp and issued a nonspecific call for greater civility in politics. Trump's campaign loomed over the speech, but Ryan seemed determine not to take it on in anyway--even indirectly. If anything, Ryan's speech today offered even less in the way of resistance to Trump and his ideas than previous remarks.
Yet in his speech today, Ryan barely touched on any of this. He called for a kinder, gentler tone in politics, said that debate was preferable to disorder, and urged politicians to be more specific in their policy proposals. But he didn't mention Trump's rallies, or his ostentatious fabrications, or his campaign's telling mix of petty personal bullying and authoritarian bluster. Instead, Ryan gently called for everyone to generally be nicer and more upbeat and a little more specific about policy. He described the world he'd like to see, rather than attempting to grapple with the world that exists
That's fine, I suppose, but it does little to meaningfully address the Trump-poisoned state of American politics, or of Ryan's own party. And in combination with its overt Kemp-nostalgia, it suggests that Ryan, and much of the party he represents, will continue to, well, do nothing and change nothing in response to Trump's campaign.
Regardless, Ryan's speech today constituted a kind of tacit acceptance of the GOP frontrunner's campaign, which it ultimately serves to enable. And in doing so, Ryan is, at least inadvertently, rapidly paving the way for the party of Lincoln to become the party of Trump. [Reason, 3/23/16]
Vox: Ryan's Speech Was A “De Facto Endorsement” Of Trump. Vox's Matthew Yglesias, wrote that “Paul Ryan's bizarre speech was a de facto endorsement of Donald Trump,” noting it had no mention of Trump or “barely even anything in there that could be read as an implicit reference to Trump”:
If you read the full text of the speech, you will find zero mentions of the man who's upended the 2016 Republican primary and will likely be the party's standard-bearer in the general election campaign. There's barely even anything in there that could be read as an implicit reference to Trump. Ryan has nothing to say about immigration, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, or violence at political rallies.
But what's clear is that this speech was not an endorsement of Cruz, or a rebuke of Trump, and does nothing to lay the groundwork for taking extraordinary measures to deny the presumptive nominee the nomination.
Given the chance to reflect on the state of national politics, Ryan does not sense an alarming rise in overt racism or anti-Muslim prejudice. Ryan does not feel that anti-immigration sentiment has gone too far. Ryan doesn't even express alarm at the backlash against international trade. Ryan isn't worried about protestors getting beaten up at rallies, and Ryan isn't worried that a leading presidential candidate lies constantly. Ryan just thinks people should be nicer, in general, and that Republicans should say nice things about poor people.
All in all, an excellent day for Trump. [Vox, 3/23/16]
The Nation: “No One Has Done More To Enable Trump Than Ryan.” The Nation's John Nichols wrote that Ryan in his speech did not “name the enemy of mainstream Republicanism and American stability (Trump),” adding that by refusing to oppose Trump as the potential nominee, “no one has done more to enable Trump than Ryan”:
Romney's convoluted speech at least named the enemy of mainstream Republicanism and American stability (Trump) and suggested alternatives. Ryan did not even go that far.
As usual, Ryan made a statement that was intended to be heard by elites as criticism of Trump--“We shouldn't accept ugliness as the norm.... Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults”--but that avoided the sort of direct and uncompromising language that might anger the billionaire. Ryan did not even mention Trump by name.
Yet, no one has done more to enable Trump than Ryan.
Every time the speaker mildly “criticizes” Trump's vile pronouncements and proposals, Ryan acknowledges that he will, of course, back Trump as the party's November nominee.
Ryan has claimed that he cannot make a meaningful statement about Trump or Trumpism, Cruz or Cruzism, because he chairs a Republican National Committee trust that is busily raising money to help the eventual nominee outspend the Democrats.
In other words, Ryan thinks fundraising for purposes of partisan positioning is more important than taking a stand for the future of his party and his country.
Other Republicans have been far more principled in their approaches. Members of the House and Senate have said they would not vote for Trump as the party's nominee. Former candidates have endorsed rivals, in hopes of preventing a Trump nomination. Principled leaders have taken tough stands. But not Paul Ryan. He's just telling Republicans to “raise our gaze and aim for a brighter horizon”--where, surprise, Paul Ryan happens to be standing. [The Nation, 3/23/16]