In early October, after Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Ryan told GOP lawmakers he would no longer defend Trump or campaign with him. A week before the election, the Wisconsin congressman was reluctant to even say Trump’s name out loud during a television interview.
Then Trump won anyway, at which point the Republican leader decided his party's president deserved unconditional support. Asked about Trump’s many conflicts of interest, Ryan said he doesn’t care. Asked about Russia’s role in helping get Trump elected, the Speaker passed the buck.
But perhaps the most dramatic example of the Speaker's change in perspective is the White House's Muslim ban. When Trump first introduced this signature idea, Ryan rejected it in no uncertain terms. As recently as June, the Wisconsin lawmaker said, "I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party, but as a country.... I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country's interest."
That, of course, was before Trump became president. On Friday, the House Speaker said he believes Trump "is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country." Today, Ryan went even further.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday stood by President Trump's executive order closing the nation's borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries, ending days of public silence on the matter with only gentle criticism that "regrettably, the rollout was confusing."
"We need to make sure that the vetting standards are up to snuff," Mr. Ryan told reporters at the Capitol, saying he remained broadly supportive of the order and citing a "very good conversation" with John F. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary.
First, the Speaker is clearly wrong about the intentions surrounding the ban. "No one" wanted to see people with green cards to "get caught up in all of this," except, of course, the authors of the plan inside the White House.
Second, Ryan has thrown his support behind a policy that, by his own admission, included key policy elements he disagrees with.
But it's the distance between 2016 Ryan and 2017 Ryan that really stands out. As Slate's Jim Newell put it the other day, "When Trump does something like this, we know he does it because he's a bigot. When Ryan praises it, we assume that he knows better, that he's just doing it because the political and policy price would be too high if he didn't. He does not get points for that anymore. He's just a Trumpkin."
During the campaign, Ryan received quite a bit of credit for repeatedly denouncing Trump's antics. To be sure, the criticisms always came with an asterisk -- the Speaker refused to even consider pulling his endorsement of Trump, no matter what the presidential candidate said or did -- but Ryan was nevertheless showered with media attention and affection for publicly rebuking his own party's nominee in the months leading up to Election Day, even drawing fire from his party's base and, at times, his own House members.
But now those who praised Ryan are left looking quite foolish. The Speaker wants his tax breaks for the wealthy; he expects Trump to help make that happen; and Ryan has deemed every other principle and consideration a distant second to his principal goal.