Paul Ryan contains multitudes. He was a jock in high school ― and a Model U.N. big shot. He’s a disciple of Ayn Rand ― and Thomas Aquinas. He is from a distinguished Wisconsin family ― and drove a hot dog truck to make pocket money.
In the last year, Ryan has twisted himself into a multitude of beer pretzel positions about Donald Trump. He took forever to “endorse” him, but has kept as much distance as he can.
Ryan’s main goal is to protect the Republican majority in the House that allows him to be Speaker. But he wants to do it without rupturing all ties to Trump (in the off chance he becomes president) and, more important, to Trump voters, who will be a force whatever happens to The Donald.
For Ryan the risk is that people will lose patience with him ― that he will be dismissed as a sophomoric, transparent, dime-store Machiavelli and hated by everyone on all of the many sides he courts.
He’s getting there. As a public service to Ryan watchers, we offer this FTL rundown of his machinations:
Muslim Ban Panned ― December 2015
One of the first sources of tension between the GOP’s emerging standard-bearer and the harried House Speaker was Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from the United States. “Freedom of religion’s a fundamental constitutional principle,” Ryan reminded everyone last December. Over the course of time, rumors that Trump would moderate his position would occasionally come. By insisting that “This is not conservatism,” Ryan hoped to establish a path of reconciliation between the Trump camp and his wary-of-Trump charges. Naturally, those hopes would end up being crushed.
Ryan Not Worried About The House ― Late December 2015
In December of 2015, a confident Ryan said there was no reason to worry about his party’s congressional majority. “Our members are very gifted people who know how to get elected in difficult climates, no matter what they are,” he said. Ryan would soon endeavor to roll out a series of policy ads in parallel to the campaign, so that his members had something on which to run.
Ryan Promises To Defend Conservatism ― March 3, 2016
In March, Trump laid down his marker: If Ryan wasn’t willing to board the Trump Train, he would “pay a big price.” Ryan’s response? “I just laughed out loud.” He then took a stand of his own. “If I see episodes where conservatism is being disfigured ... if I see ideas and comments that mislead the people as to who we are as Republicans, I’m going to speak out on those.” Hmm.
Ryan Says He Won’t Be The Presidential Nominee ― March 16
Through a spokeswoman in March, he said this: “The speaker is grateful for the support, but he is not interested ... He will not accept a nomination and believes our nominee should be someone who ran this year.”
Ryan Presented With First Chance To Defend His Party, Whiffs ― March 17
In a week when Trump was slow to distance himself from David Duke, Ryan was asked if it was necessary to condemn Trump’s candidacy. “I do not believe I’ll have to do that,” he said. Trump would say of a conversation he had with Ryan: “Tremendous call.” Around this time, Ryan started to look ahead to the convention, suggesting it might be a contested one. He also began to have secret meetings with GOP donors regarding Trump.
Ryan Really, Really Won’t Be The Nominee, Guys! ― April 12
A month after his spokeswoman’s statement, Ryan appeared at a press conference to let everyone hear it from his own mouth: “Let me be clear. I do not want, nor will I accept, the nomination for our party.” The Washington Post deemed this to be effectively “Shermanesque.”
Ryan Waffles All Of May ― May 2016
On May 5, Ryan declared that he was not yet ready to endorse Trump, despite it looking more and more likely that he’d be stuck with him as his party’s standard-bearer. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus offered to attempt to “broker a truce” between the two men, but Ryan would go on to spend most of the month facing Trump’s imminent candidacy as a personal dilemma. As the month unfolded and Trump’s character continued to prove wanting, Ryan used a policy of avoidance, saying that he was “not going to get into the day-to-day, up-and-down, in-and-out of the primary.”
Ryan Has A Phone Call With Trump ― May 26
“We had a very good and productive phone call,” Ryan said.
Ryan Finally Endorses, In Quietest Way Possible ― June 2
Ryan finally, officially got in bed with Donald Trump, but he gave the scoop to his hometown Janesville Gazette.
And Then Mere Hours Later ...
Ryan heard about Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel and called it a “textbook racist comment.” Would he still walk alongside Trump, however? Sure, but in that textbook, “I disagree with everything you’re doing but I’m still endorsing you because that is my life now” sort of walk.
Ryan Shrugged ― June 9
Ryan, when asked why he’s sticking around with Trump’s antics, offered that Trump “won fair and square.” “But,” he said, “I think and hope and believe that he can fix this to the point where he can hopefully run a campaign that we can all be proud of.”
Remember That Whole Muslim Ban, Though? ― June 12
Days later, the fight over Trump’s proposed Muslim ban reignited. “I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest,” he told reporters. “I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country.”
Ryan Can Barely Remember His Nominee’s Name ― July 19
The Dogged Days Of August
With Trump waging war on Democratic National Convention speaker Khizr Khan, Ryan was forced to deliver a new slew of lightly condemnatory statements in which he described Trump’s attacks as “beyond the pale.” Still endorsing him, though!
Trump Withdraws Support For Ryan ― August
Trump struck back, briefly, suggesting that he wouldn’t support Ryan’s re-election. That gave brief hope to Ryan’s longshot primary opponent, Paul Nehlen ― until the election, when Ryan put the upstart challenger down.
Ryan Briefly Forgets Trump Exists ― End of August
At the end of August, Ryan made himself a little video, suffused with lots of patriotism, lots of optimism and lots of Paul Ryan. Somehow, it managed to leave out the whole “Donald Trump is running for president” part. The Huffington Post helped him remember.
Ryan Gets Excited That Trump Has A Policy Proposal ― Sept. 23
It was such a blessed relief that Donald Trump had finally ― in September! ― offered a “concrete policy idea” on paid maternity leave that Ryan was happy to forgive the fact that he and his House Republican caucus completely disagreed with it.
Ryan Almost Appears With Trump On The Trail ― Oct. 7
And then it nearly happened! Ryan was scheduled to make a joint appearance with Trump in his home state of Wisconsin. This would finally put all the previous year’s animosity to rest. There would be unity!
And Then Mere Hours Later...
And then came the “Grab her by the pussy” video. “I am sickened by what I heard today,” Ryan said in a statement. And the joint appearance was off. Ryan’s appearance at the event was met with boos and jeers from the Trump supporters in the crowd, who shouted, “Mention Trump!” and “Support Trump.”
Ryan Tells Everyone They’re On Their Own ― Oct. 10
As The Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller reported the day after the second presidential debate:
Ryan told Republican members of Congress on a conference call Monday that they “all need to do what’s best for you in your district,” according to someone on the call. Ryan said he wouldn’t campaign with Trump for the rest of the election, but added that he wouldn’t withdraw his endorsement of the GOP nominee.
Donald Trump, of course, responded with a tweet.