McKay Coppins reports on Paul Ryan’s willingness to hew to the party line:
But those who expected Ryan’s ideological conviction to compel an audacious war against his own party’s presidential nominee misunderstood him. He has not gotten to where he is by making trouble. He is, at his core, a good soldier.
That’s a good description of Ryan, who has made a point of not making waves inside his party. He has ascended to the top of the House Republican leadership because he has never opposed party leaders on any major issue during his long tenure in Congress. One of the problems I have had with Ryan in the past is that he voted for every major piece of the Bush administration’s domestic agenda no matter how fiscally irresponsible it was. It was hard to take seriously his reinvention as a champion of reining in government spending after he backed one of the largest expansions of the welfare state in U.S. history. He never broke with party leaders on policy, and to this day he still hasn’t. The idea that Ryan was about to behave like a fire-breathing dissenter in the middle of a presidential election year never made much sense, and it makes even less sense when we remember that more Republicans like Trump right now than like him.
If Ryan has long demonstrated “a reflexive, eager-to-please acquiescence,” as Coppins puts it, it is always the people in positions of influence and power that he is eager to please. Ryan doesn’t play to the crowd. Maybe he knows how to, but he doesn’t see the point in doing so. He isn’t someone inclined to speak out against a party leader he dislikes, but instead prefers to ingratiate himself with him. His meeting with Trump last week should be understood in that light. That has clearly helped him rise through the ranks to his current position, but it is also what makes him more of a functionary and party man than anything else. He may want to use the party to advance a certain agenda, but he isn’t going to go against the party for the sake of that agenda, either. Doing that would go against ingrained habits cultivated over decades.
Contrary to Ryan’s self-image, he has never been a “bomb-thrower” when it mattered. Whenever he has a had a choice between siding with intra-party dissenters or the party leadership, he has always ended up on the side of the latter. Now this leadership includes Trump, and he once again seems to be finding a way to fall in line, or at least refuse to step out of line. For good or ill, Ryan is the consummate team player. That is how he became Speaker, and it’s also why his record has been marred by so many of the Republican Party’s failures and errors.