Last week former House Speaker Paul Ryan in an address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library in Simi Valley, Calif. admonished his fellow Republicans to stop focusing on the "populist appeal of one personality," and urged the GOP to avoid getting "caught up in every little cultural battle," per excerpts of his remarks reported by Axios.
Setting aside whether Ryan can legitimately classify himself as a conservative, let’s analyze the lethal venom in his remarks.
What Ryan was saying, without mentioning his name, was that the Republican Party should ignore former President Donald J. Trump. And Ryan went on to say, "[W]e conservatives have to be careful not to get caught up in every little cultural battle. Sometimes these skirmishes are just creations of outrage peddlers, detached from reality and not worth anybody’s time."
For a guy who tried to brand himself as always the smartest person in the room, those were two incredibly stupid comments.
What Ryan seems to be forgetting is that voters decide who are the “leaders” of a political party. And millions of voters have decided that, even after his alleged defeat in the 2020 election, they prefer Donald Trump’s leadership to the leadership of other high-profile Republican elected officials – including Paul Ryan and his erstwhile running mate, Mitt Romney.
What’s more, in making those remarks Ryan ignores, or is ignorant of, the history of how conservatives and Republicans have won national elections and at least three recent mandate elections.
Our friend the late Jeffrey Bell, who worked for Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp wrote a must-read book, The Case for Polarized Politics. In an incisive interview he gave to The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, Jeff Bell noted, “Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964. The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections.”
The Democrats who won since 1968, including even Barack Obama in 2008 and Joe Biden in 2020, did not play up social liberalism in their campaigns. In 1992 Bill Clinton was a death-penalty advocate who promised to “end welfare as we know it” and make abortion “safe, legal and rare.” Social issues have come to the fore on the GOP side in two of the six presidential elections tracked by Jeff Bell in his book —in 1988 (prison furloughs, the Pledge of Allegiance, the ACLU) and 2004 (same-sex marriage). Those were the only two elections since Reagan where the Republican Party won a popular majority, Bell noted, and it wasn’t coincidental.
Paul Ryan’s ticket to the big time in Republican politics was his association with Jack Kemp, but based on his comments at the Reagan Library it appears he should have taken a little time off from brownnosing Kemp to spend time listening to Jeff Bell.
And, to put a finer point on Jeffrey Bell’s observations, the “Contract With America” election of 1994, the Tea Party wave election of 2010 and Donald Trump’s insurgent victory in 2016 were very much cultural battles won by conservatives – and powered by the grassroots outrage Paul Ryan decried.
If we look at history since 1968, taking conservative outrage over cultural issues out of politics and substituting Paul Ryan’s soulless econometric worldview would be a sure way to ensure America becomes a one-party state dominated by secular Democrats.
Moreover, while Uniparty failures like Paul Ryan claim that Trumpism is merely a populist personality cult, the exact opposite is true.
Ryan, Romney, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and the rest don’t ever want to talk about their principles versus Donald Trump’s principles. And they conveniently gloss over the fact that Donald Trump was elected on a set of clear principles and a program to carry them out: ending globalist trade deals that beggared American workers, raising American wages and reducing crime by enforcing existing immigration laws, opposing abortion, nominating originalist judges, defeating our Sharia-supremacist enemies, rebuilding the military, rebuilding the economy by reducing government regulations and making America energy independent being among the most important.
Building the wall on our southern border was convenient symbology for several of those key elements in Trump’s platform – symbology that Paul Ryan made sure to step on while he was Speaker because as a committed globalist he opposed the principles and policies symbolized by building the wall.
Paul Ryan made his way up the establishment Republican ladder by branding himself as an adherent of the economic conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, but when he had the power to implement their policies, he did nothing but stand in the way of Donald Trump – the man who actually wanted to govern America according to the principles they espoused.
George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ.com and is a veteran of over 300 political campaigns, including every Republican presidential campaign from 1976 to 2004. A member of American MENSA, he served on the staff of Vice President Dan Quayle, and as a staff member or advance representative for some of America’s most recognized conservative political figures, including Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin and Jack Kemp.
Reagan Presidential Library