Toward the end of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) interview last night with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, after Hannity had swooned over the Republican tax cut plan, the host turned his attention to whether the congressman and his caucus are sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump.
Some Republican senators “openly trash the president,” Hannity said sorrowfully. “What’s your relationship with him?” “It’s very good,” the speaker replied. “It is the opposite. We have a great relationship.”
“Are you happy with his presidency?” Hannity asked. “I’m very happy,” said Ryan, adding that members of the House Republican caucus do not criticize the president the way GOP senators do. Trump, according to Ryan, “is giving us the leadership we need to get the country back on the right track.”
Not satisfied with Ryan’s open-ended declaration of loyalty, Hannity sought to determine if there were any issues on which Ryan maintained opinions that differed from the president’s. “Is there anything about his agenda that you think is not conservative?” he asked. “Not that I can think of,” Ryan replied. Only after Ryan denied having “any big disagreement” with Trump was the Fox host finally reassured enough to move on, having successfully gotten the speaker to repudiate any sense of independence from Trump.
When Fox circulated a clip of the interview on Twitter this morning, Ryan came under withering criticism from across much of the political spectrum for his bootlicking. “I think the great Paul Ryan has learned to love Big Brother,” commented National Review Senior Editor Jay Nordlinger. “Ah, politics. Sad.”
Ryan’s act of public ring-kissing comes as Hannity has begun regularly training his fire on the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Night after night over the past month, Hannity has castigated McConnell -- “Mr. 18 percent approval rating,” as the Fox host calls him -- for being unable to manage his caucus well enough to deliver victories for Trump on health care, among other priorities.
The Republican failures to pass large-scale legislation through the Senate are in no small part due to the Republican failure to develop a coherent agenda and the president’s famous lack of attention to details, which makes negotiations arduous.
But Hannity places the blame for such legislative losses squarely on McConnell’s inability to “get enough votes.” According to Hannity, the Republican Senate leader is “incompetent and incapable” and “has no excuses” for his inability to pass legislation. In fact, according to Hannity, McConnell is deliberately messing up, because he “does not support the president's agenda ... and it's obvious.”
Hannity has repeatedly suggested that McConnell should resign due to his failures. “So senator, if you don't want to roll up your sleeves, if you don’t want to get to work on passing the agenda you promised and the president promised, then maybe it's time to call it a career,” Hannity said on September 12. “Get out of the way. Let someone else who actually cares about keeping their promises to the American people -- let them step up. Let them start passing legislation.”
Hannity’s criticism of McConnell has come as Trump has publicly called out the GOP Senate leader and their relationship has reportedly deteriorated.
Throughout his interview with Ryan, Hannity repeatedly raised the issue of the Senate, describing it as “the swamp,” asking Ryan why McConnell doesn’t eliminate the legislative filibuster and why he has been unable to confirm presidential nominees, and all but asking him to throw his Senate colleagues under the bus.
“In fairness to you, you will talk to me. Mitch McConnell won't even take my call,” Hannity complained.
Ryan has largely avoided this sort of criticism in recent days, and he would no doubt like to avoid his own turn in the barrel. Once the golden boy of the right-wing media for his budget proposals that would have devastated the social safety net, he has since seen many of his former champions turn on him for being insufficiently radical.
The rising power of Breitbart.com chief executive Steve Bannon -- who spent years attacking Ryan, sought his defeat in the last Republican primary, and is reportedly targeting GOP incumbents insufficiently loyal to the president -- is no doubt of concern to Ryan. Indeed, the day before Ryan sat for the interview with Hannity, a Bannon-backed candidate defeated a sitting McConnell-backed senator in a GOP primary.
Hannity, whose loyalty to Trump at least rivals Bannon’s, would be a powerful ally if Ryan faces a competitive primary race.
Last year, many conservative commentators warned that Hannity had too much influence over the Republican Party and that his obsequious willingness to throw over ideology and common decency to promote Trump would end in disaster for the GOP. But a year later, with Trump sitting in the Oval Office, Hannity’s influence is stronger than ever -- so strong that he can compel the speaker of the House to publicly affirm the same brown-nosing level of commitment to the president.