Breitbart.com is coming for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and it's using the GOP health care bill that President Donald Trump supports to attack him.
Last night, the sycophantic pro-Trump site previously run by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon published audio of a House GOP conference call from last October in which Ryan said he was “not going to defend Donald Trump -- not now, not in the future.” Ryan was responding to the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women.
Breitbart Washington bureau chief Matt Boyle’s write-up suggests that the audio was published to convince the president that he doesn’t owe Ryan anything. Boyle suggests the speaker “misled President Trump into believing that Ryan’s bill can pass Congress” and asserts that the legislation’s floundering “calls into question” whether Ryan “really understands how Trump won and how to win in general.”
Boyle further claims that “in conversations Breitbart News has had with no fewer than 15 other White House aides, including many on the press team, it is clear that the President and the senior Trump administration team are not happy with this bill’s lack of conservative support." He grants anonymity to one source, whom he quotes as saying: “The President gave Ryan a chance. If he doesn’t get his act together soon, the President will have no choice but to step in and fix this on his own. He’s the best negotiator on the planet, and if this were his bill not Ryan’s it would not be this much of a mess.”
In short, a right-wing Trump support site is providing the bill’s critics in the White House with a platform to push Trump away from the legislation he publicly supports by blaming it all on Ryan.
Last week, Business Insider reported that Boyle had defended a previous salvo against the health care bill by telling colleagues, “We are Breitbart. This is war. There are no sacred cows in war.” But a review of Breitbart’s reporting on the bill indicates that there is one sacred cow: the site’s support for Trump.
Trump and his administration officials have repeatedly expressed their fervent support for the House bill, which would result in tens of millions of Americans losing access to health insurance, according to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. On Friday, the president devoted his weekly radio address to extolling the legislation’s virtues, and his aides fanned out across the Sunday morning political shows to talk up the bill and talk down its then-forthcoming CBO score. Trump has even reportedly threatened to back primary challenges against members of Congress who oppose it.
But as Boyle’s Monday night article indicates, Breitbart’s reporting has depicted the bill as Ryan’s creation and suggests that Ryan tricked Trump into supporting the GOP health care legislation.
Breitbart’s reporters are seeking out conservative opponents of the bill and giving them an opportunity to savage the legislation -- and Ryan. Their headlines include “Exclusive — Sarah Palin on Paul Ryan’s ‘RINO-Care’: ‘Socialized Medicine’; President Trump Will ‘Step In and Fix It’”; “Honeymoon Over: Speaker Paul Ryan Targets His Own Republicans, Not Democrats, with Ads on Health Care”; and “Exclusive — House Freedom Caucus Not Budging, Official Position Is for Full Repeal Alternative to Paul Ryan’s Obamacare 2.0.”
Breitbart’s framing accomplishes several goals. It allows the website to continue its long war against Ryan under the imprimatur of trying to protect Trump. Its reporters have free rein to go after legislation that their audience hates, without tarnishing the image of the president their audience loves. And this line of attack neatly sidesteps the fundamental reality that conservatives want to repeal Obamacare and their only potential plans to replace it would necessarily deprive tens of millions of people of access to health care.
Breitbart may be paving the way, but many of the president’s other leading media allies have adopted the same argument.
On yesterday’s The Five, Fox News' Eric Bolling said that it’s time to “scrap” the health care bill, claiming that “Paul Ryan and the rest of the leadership pulled the wool over President Trump’s eyes.”
Last night, Fox News' Sean Hannity claimed that Trump “has not really been well served by the Republican party in the House or the Senate, and this public civil war that is going on makes the G.O.P. Congress -- after having eight years to get their act together -- look like they were ill-prepared for this big moment.” He called on all Republican factions to “hammer out a consensus bill.”
Over on Fox Business, Lou Dobbs fulminated that “This piece of junk won’t accomplish a single thing that the president has promised the American people. And only Paul Ryan would have the affrontery, the arrogance, and the incompetence to put a bill like that in front of the president.” He added that Trump “has got to overcome this kind of idiocy in the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Republican Party. I mean, come on!”
Donald Trump cannot fail. He can only be failed.