An Open Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan: It’s time to leave.
Dear Mr. Speaker:
I like you.
We both admired and worked for Jack Kemp at different stages of his career. I agree with much of your Kemp-style agenda. So it gives me no pleasure to say what is now abundantly obvious.
It is time for you to do the honorable thing and resign as Speaker of the House.
Your views on Donald Trump — and for that matter anything else — are between you and your constituents in Wisconsin. But most certainly what you do as Speaker of the House — which is to say as the leader of the Republican Party in the House and a senior leader in the national Republican Party — is to support the Republican presidential nominee elected by the voters. Amazingly, you have dragged your feet repeatedly on one of your central responsibilities as a party leader. Now, with your latest statement refusing to defend Donald Trump — the Republican nominee and the elected leader of the Republican Party — you have refused outright to perform your job as a senior party leader.
With that in mind, it is time to do the right thing — and the honorable thing: Resign the Speakership immediately.
To my dismay, you have chosen to disregard Ronald Reagan’s wise remark that “a political party is not a fraternal order.” Instead, you have essentially joined forces with those who view the Republican Party as just that: a club. A combination fraternity/sorority and country club whose members — self-selected Congressmen and Senators, wealthy donors, consultants, and lobbyists — see themselves in high-school terms as the “in crowd,” and all the rest of their fellow Republicans — not to mention conservative Democrats and Independents — not as allies and supporters but as outsiders. Outsiders for whom the “insiders” have a fundamental contempt — a view that is strikingly similar to the view of Americans held by Hillary Clinton and the American Left at large.
Indeed, it is this “fraternal order” psychology that produced first the Reagan Revolution and now Donald Trump. In both instances, the base of the party was fed up with Republican elites whose view of America was centered on not principle but their own careers. It is precisely this mindset that — long before Donald Trump appeared on the scene — gave millions of Republican voters the belief that the Republican elites in Washington and elsewhere are, to borrow from Sean Hannity, feckless, weak and interested not in the country but only in the preservation of their own careers. As Reagan well knew, this kind of belief can be fatal to a political party.
To say to your members, as news accounts report, that “You all need to do what’s best for you in your district” illustrates exactly the problem. CNN reports that you are — good for you — a “prolific fundraiser.” You are dedicated to preserving the House GOP majority. Also good. But along the way in all of this there seems to be a major — make that the central — point that is being ignored.
That point, of course, is what exactly is the reason for having a House majority in the first place? If the only reason to control the House is simply to keep Republican members in their jobs — to sustain the fraternal order — then there is in fact no reason to support Republicans for Congress. The reason Republicans are supposed to be there is to aggressively push the GOP agenda. Which in turn means that sometimes one wins and sometimes one loses — but always make sure, as Reagan once told the House Republicans of his day (and wrote in his diary), “that even with the Dems outvoting us we can point out to the people how different the Dems & Repubs are.”
For a number of years now the Republican leadership in Washington has given the distinct impression that they are where they are in order to find excuses not to do what they promise. It is this impression that has directly led to the rise of Donald Trump.
As has been discussed frequently in this space, this is the American version of the phenomenon observed long ago in British politics by Ronald Reagan’s great friend and political soulmate Margaret Thatcher. Wrote Thatcher in her memoirs, The Downing Street Years:
At the level of principle, rhetorically and in Opposition, it opposed these [Labour Party/socialist] doctrines and preached the gospel of free enterprise, with very little qualification. Almost every post-war Tory victory had been won on slogans such as ‘Britain Strong and Free’ or ‘Set the People Free.’ But in the fine print of policy, and especially in government, the Tory Party merely pitched camp in the long march to the left. It never tried seriously to reverse it.
The Carlisle State Pubs were sold off. Taxation? Regulation? Subsidies? If these were cut down at the start of a Tory government, they gradually crept up again as its life ebbed away.
The welfare state? We boasted of spending more money than Labour, not of restoring people to independence and self-reliance.
The result of this accommodationist politics, as my colleague Keith Joseph complained, was that post-war politics became a ‘socialist ratchet’ — Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour government moved the country a little further left. The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it.
For far too long, Republican elites in Washington have practiced the American version of what Mrs. Thatcher so correctly described. Call it the politics of the “socialist ratchet” (Thatcher) or the politics of the “fraternal order” (Reagan) or whatever you choose. But without doubt the practice of this kind of politics by far too many Republican leaders in Washington has produced the Trump Rebellion.
President Reagan frequently quoted these words from Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Thomas Paine also said this: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”
Your most recent statement about Donald Trump makes it vividly clear that with less than a month to go before a major presidential election — an election that will determine the fate of the Supreme Court, the economy, and America’s role in a world where it faces a mortal enemy — you are refusing to lead and cannot follow the voters of your own party. Which leaves only one honorable choice: get out of the way.
I say this with great respect and great regret.
It is time for you to resign as Speaker of the House.