U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. 
Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Paul Ryan’s principles waver at election’s finish line

Updated
Nearly a month ago, a recording surfaced that showed Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault, prompting many congressional Republicans to pull their support for the party’s presidential nominee. House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to take that step, but he nevertheless told GOP lawmakers he would no longer defend Trump or campaign with him.

The GOP Speaker canceled the one event he’d scheduled with Trump and told his House members he’d shift his focus to down-ballot races.

Four weeks later, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether or not Ryan actually meant what he said. The Cap Times in Wisconsin had a striking report on Saturday.
The Republican presidential nominee earlier this week scheduled a Sunday afternoon rally in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee. It was to be Trump’s sixth Wisconsin event since he lost the state’s primary election to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“We don’t know if it’s scheduled firm or not yet, but I intend to do it if he’s here,” Ryan told reporters Saturday when asked if he would attend the Trump rally. “Here’s the point: we’re going from here to Mukwonago to go campaign with Mike Pence. So everybody’s schedule is a little bit in flux in these closing moments, but if our nominee comes, we’ll campaign with him.”
Soon after, it became a moot point: Trump’s Wisconsin-based officials told reporters that the scheduled event had been canceled. And while that’s interesting in its own right, the broader context is worth appreciating: less than a month after Paul Ryan announced he wouldn’t campaign with Trump, the nation’s top GOP elected official said the exact opposite.

Indeed, Ryan’s entire attitude appears to have changed practically overnight. As recently as a week ago, the Speaker was reluctant to say his party’s candidate’s name out loud, but yesterday, Ryan implored voters to “bring the Clinton era to an end by voting for Donald Trump on Tuesday.”

We know exactly what’s driving the congressman’s metamorphosis.

In recent months, the more Ryan grew disgusted with Trump, the more the Speaker made his dissatisfaction clear. The result has been an ugly feud, with the GOP presidential candidate routinely chastising Ryan publicly.

It was only in recent days, however, that the House Speaker began to care. Late last week, Ryan announced he wants to stay on in his current post – it was the first time all year the congressman made his future plans clear – despite rumblings among some GOP members about replacing him.

The decision effectively changes the rules of the game: if Ryan intends to keep his gavel, he’ll need to make his far-right caucus happy. To make his far-right caucus happy, Ryan will need to express support for Trump and avoid blame if the Republican ticket loses.

The result isn’t pretty, but it is rational. A month ago, Ryan made it clear he was through with his party’s presidential candidate and would focus instead on down-ballot contests. And yet, Ryan wrote a new op-ed over the weekend, urging Americans to vote for Donald Trump.

It’s clear that Paul Ryan is a man of “principle” – weak, malleable principles, which he’ll forgo whenever partisan considerations get in the way, hoping no one remembers what he said before.