Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan

Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan

When he explained his support for Donald Trump’s presidential bid earlier this month, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden MORE (R-Wis.) was clear about the political strategy behind his move. 

He wanted a Republican president to support the House Republican agenda.


As he wrote in his hometown paper “on the issues that make up [the House GOP] agenda,” he and Trump “have more common ground than disagreement.”

That sounds fair to me. So what is in this House GOP agenda?

When Ryan became Speaker, he said one of his first goals was to pass a Republican alternative to ObamaCare. It has been six years since the law was enacted. But even with Ryan as Speaker, the House GOP has yet to come up with a better idea.

Next, the new Speaker said he wanted to give voice to members by returning power to committee chairmen. He pledged to get the GOP to lay out its priorities by passing a budget.

But after seven months, Ryan is on track to be the first Speaker in modern times to fail to pass an official budget for his party through the lower chamber. 

Even if Trump were president today, the House would not have a budget proposal to send him.

And Ryan still hasn’t gotten the House to pass important measures like a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

There is a failed GOP House agenda here that extends far and wide.

Part of the Ryan agenda was to have all twelve appropriations bills passed through “regular order,” with each committee gaining more say over budget priorities by controlling the debate over amendments and getting them passed on time.

Again, it has not happened. 

The problem here is not Democrats in Congress or the Democrat in the White House. 

The problem is the deep dysfunction in the Republican ranks.

Since becoming Speaker, Ryan has tried to control the same Tea Party activist forces that drove his predecessor, then Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCrowley, Shuster moving to K Street On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Bill Clinton jokes no one would skip Dingell's funeral: 'Only time' we could get the last word MORE (R-Ohio), into an early retirement; defeated BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCrowley, Shuster moving to K Street On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Bill Clinton jokes no one would skip Dingell's funeral: 'Only time' we could get the last word MORE’s preferred successor then-Rep. Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorPelosi warns GOP: Next president could declare national emergency on guns Ousted GOP lawmaker David Brat named dean at Liberty University business school Trump, GOP seek to shift blame for shutdown to Pelosi MORE in his own Virginia Congressional primary; derailed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) bid to become Speaker; and fueled Trump’s victory in the GOP primary.

The Speaker was embarrassed last month when hardline members of his own caucus sneaked poison pill amendments discriminating against LGBT contractors into legislation. A major House energy bill was defeated when Democrats joined with moderate Republicans to strip the language from the bill.  

Despite these failures, Ryan is still trying to add on to the House Republican agenda. Last week, the Speaker and GOP House members rolled out the latest version of their unfulfilled plan. This one is called “Better Way” and they started with a plan for fighting poverty.

But Ryan’s rollout was overshadowed by Trump’s personal attack on a federal judge presiding over the Trump University case. Trump says the judge has an unfair bias against him because the judge is of Mexican heritage and Trump wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Ryan condemned Trump’s attacks on the judge, who was born in Indiana, as the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” 

But with a laser focus on the future of the House GOP agenda, Ryan said he remained a Trump supporter.

This led to a tsunami of criticism. The New York Daily News front page had a picture of Ryan purportedly pointing at Trump saying “I’m With Racist!”

Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, tweeted: “Official position of the leadership of the Republican Party: Trump is an inexcusable bigot, and Trump must be our next president.”

Is Kristol failing to appreciate Ryan’s strategic desire to gain a powerful partner in the next president?

Conservative columnist George Will spoke directly to that issue.

He wrote that Ryan faced a simple moral choice that amounted to assuming that passing “whatever semblance of the House agenda that reaches President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE’s desk is more important than keeping this impetuous, vicious, ignorant and anti-constitutional man from being at that desk.”  

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens also piled on:

He condemned Trump’s attack on Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel as “the most shameful word uttered by a major presidential candidate since Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond thundered in 1948 against the ‘Nigra race.’ ” 

Stephens concluded that Ryan and other “Republican leaders who think they can co-opt or tame Mr. Trump will instead find themselves stained by him.”

So, to recap, Ryan capitulated and endorsed Trump because he thought it would help salvage the House GOP agenda. Instead, he has added fuel to the fires burning down the Republican Party. 

After the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee warned against embracing the kind of race-baiting anti-immigrant policies Trump is now espousing. In its famous “autopsy,” the RNC pointed to a need to reach out to Latino and young voters.

With Ryan’s capitulation, the GOP establishment has now officially gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction. It has embraced the extremism, racism and incoherence that pervades talk radio and conservative blogs. 

And Speaker Ryan, the party’s top elected official — the man with the stature to defy Trump and halt the GOP’s decline into political ineffectiveness — has decided to focus on an agenda that already looks like a lost cause.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, "We The People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers' Vision of America," published by Crown, is out now.