Best line: “He’s Speaker of what? Just Speaker of the House of Representatives? We are a party!” When will Paul Ryan, minor government functionary, look past the insignificant job he holds and consider what’s best for a party that’s about as popular nationally as Zika is?
I hope Pierson’s not suggesting with the “Just Speaker” line that Ryan somehow ranks below Trump on the constitutional food chain. Conservatives spent the past five years howling at Obama’s power grabs as an affront to separation of powers and Congress’s role as an equal branch. I realize that nominating Trump operates as a de facto repudiation of that position, but let’s at least go on paying it lip service for a few more months, okay? The crux of her point, though, is that populist righties were good soldiers for establishment nominees like McCain and Romney despite their misgivings about them, therefore the establishmentarians now owe it to a populist nominee like Trump to hold their noses and support him in return. Is that true? For starters, many establishmentarians, starting with Mitch McConnell(!), John Boehner, and McCain himself, have already vowed to support Trump even though we’re less than 72 hours removed from his win in Indiana and he’s still a few hundred delegates away from clinching. As I’m writing this, news is breaking that Dick farking Cheney is ready to back Trump too. Ryan’s “not just yet” statement is notable only because it’s been so unusual this week as other big names have fallen in line. For another thing, it’s not true that populist righties uniformly fell in line for RINO nominees. If they had, we wouldn’t have wondered after the 2012 election where all the “missing white voters” went. Romney was so out of touch with the working class that many of them decided not to bother turning out for him. They wanted a nominee who actually addressed their policy concerns, and when Romney couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, they walked. That was Ryan’s point yesterday in holding out on Trump. We want a standard-bearer who bears our standards, in his words.
Ask yourself this: If Ted Cruz, a guy even more despised by establishmentarians than Trump is, had come back to win the nomination, do you think would Ryan have supported him? Under Pierson’s theory, the answer should be no. Populists grudgingly support pols they dislike but establishmentarians don’t repay the favor, therefore we should expect that Ryan wouldn’t have endorsed Cruz. But of course he would have. That’s because Cruz is an orthodox conservative, whatever his personal and strategic shortcomings. Ryan might have privately hated the idea of a populist bombthrower being anointed in Cleveland but he’d have no trouble working with President Cruz on policy and, for that reason, wouldn’t have held out on him. His problem with Trump isn’t that he’s a populist, it’s that he’s prone to farting out wild ideas like this, pure poison to an entitlement reformer like Ryan. Beyond that, if you believe Byron York, Ryan has a real distaste for Trump’s brand of identity politics. He’s a Jack Kemp disciple who wants to try to build out a coalition organized around economic principles and belief in smaller government, not ethno-nationalism. The irony of Pierson suddenly treating Trump like he’s just another Republican except for his anti-establishment cred is that Trump superfans like her usually can’t wait to tell you how different he is. He’s not PC like McCain and Romney! He’s a nationalist, not some conservative loser! He’s redefining the party in his own image, not Paul Ryan’s image! His brand of politics is starkly distinct from a Randian like Ryan’s — yet Ryan’s supposed to happily hop aboard the Trump train without even a pause for misgivings? Are you joking?
I hope the meeting between them goes well next week or we’re destined to hear Trump start whining that “the system is rigged” because the Speaker isn’t directly elected by voters. Exit question: What does Pierson mean here when she complains that Mitt Romney is “pro-adoption”? Does she mean “pro-adoption by gay couples”? Is Donald Trump, who’s been conspicuously uninterested in culture-war arguments over gay issues, against gay adoption? I’m looking forward to a follow-up where Pierson explains why orphanages are better for kids.