Donald Trump has put House Speaker Paul Ryan in a tough spot through his very existence as Donald Trump, and how Ryan has dealt with it shows a lot about the man. Ryan’s carefully crafted persona was boyish—Boy Scoutish—Republican policy wonk who just wanted to slash Medicare and Medicaid because he cared so much about people, and if it wasn’t hard to see through, well, a lot of the media didn’t bother looking. Then along comes Trump and Ryan is constantly having to respond to things Trump’s done that are on-brand for Trump but way off-brand for Ryan, and suddenly a whole lot more people can see what a weasel Ryan’s been all along, as he ducks and dodges and avoids taking positions on Trump’s worst by claiming ignorance of it.
Now, with Ryan retiring, he’s trying to set up his legacy a little bit with some in-depth interviews, and the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich gets this great moment:
He tends to speak of the commander in chief as if he were sharing a coping strategy on dealing with a Ritalin-deprived child. “It boomerangs,” Ryan says of being too critical of Trump. “He goes in the other direction, so that’s not effective.” He added, “The pissing match doesn’t work.”
If you’re a party of cowards, sure.
Ryan prefers to tell Trump how he feels in private. He joins a large group of Trump’s putative allies, many of whom have worked in the administration, who insist that they have shaped Trump’s thinking and behavior in private: the “Trust me, I’ve stopped this from being much worse” approach. “I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy, I avoided that tragedy,” Ryan tells me. “I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal, I advanced this goal.”
I locked in on the word “tragedy.” It sets the mind reeling to whatever thwarted “tragedies” Ryan might be talking about. I asked for an example. “No, I don’t want to do that,” Ryan replied. “That’s more than I usually say.”
That’s the baseline for Paul Ryan in restraining Donald Trump: avoiding some of the possible tragedies, and then not warning the American people that the man in the White House is trying to create tragedies. But of course, Ryan is willing to constantly confront things that even he thinks would be tragedies because the payoff was a giant tax cut for rich people. He’s not some hero working silently behind the scenes for the good of humanity. He’s a weasel keeping things running as smoothly as he can so he can get what he’s wanted all along.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.