Ryan Says GOP Must Move Past Trump

"If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we're not going anywhere."

Annie Karnie for NYT (“Paul Ryan Critiques Trump’s Grip on the Republican Party“):

Paul D. Ryan, the former Republican speaker of the House, re-entered the political arena on Thursday night with a speech obliquely criticizing Donald J. Trump and warning Republicans that the only viable future for the fractured party was one unattached to the former president.

“Here’s one reality we have to face,” Mr. Ryan said during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. “If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere.”

Mr. Ryan said he had found it “horrifying to see a presidency come to such a dishonorable and disgraceful end,” although he did not specifically refer to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 or to Mr. Trump’s repeated election falsehoods.

He added that Republican voters would “not be impressed by the sight of yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago.”

The former speaker tempered his criticism by avoiding any mention of Mr. Trump by name — except to say that the former president’s brand of populism, when “tethered to conservative principles,” had led to economic growth, and to credit him with bringing new voters to the party.

The early response from the Trumpists:

A senior adviser for Mr. Trump, Jason Miller, responded to early excerpts from the speech with a terse brushoff: “Who is Paul Ryan?” he said in a text message.

Which would be typically childish and petulant were it not for this:

Mr. Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, left behind his 20-year career in Congress in 2019. In his role as speaker, he kowtowed to Mr. Trump at first, and later edged away from him, publicly breaking with the former president only after leaving office.

Allahpundit notes the irony that “for all the hype about Ryan criticizing Trump in this evening’s address to the Reagan Presidential Library, he … won’t quite bring himself to say Trump’s name.”

The broader irony, though, is that Ryan seems to be urging that, rather than be the party of Trump, the GOP should be the party of Reagan. While I was an enthusiastic supporter of Reagan when he ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and happily voted for his re-election in 1984, the first election in which I was eligible, part of the Republican Party’s problem in recent years is that it’s still recycling Reagan’s platform more than four decades later. It would be as if Reagan ran on Wendell Wilkie’s platform.

A conservatism that wants most political decisions made at the state and local level, that prefers national defense to the top priority of the federal government, and wants to keep the tax burden low is still viable. But the context in which Reagan ran is completely different.

  • Like it or not, we’re more nationalized (and even internationalized) than ever. The realities of the Internet alone make it absurd not to regulate all manner of commercial activities at the federal level.
  • The Cold War has been over for more than three decades. The war on terror was mostly a waste of blood and treasure. And a rising China and retrograde Russia require a very different military approach.
  • In 1980, the top marginal rate was 70 percent and taxes on the middle class were quite high. And inflation, unemployment, and interest rates were absurdly high. The top rate has been under 40 percent ever since and inflation and interest rates have been at near-record lows for years now.
  • In 1980, Roe vs. Wade was 7 years old. It’s now nearing the half-century mark.

And that’s to say nothing of a country that’s much more ethnically and racially diverse than it was when Reagan was elected.

So, yes, the party has to somehow move past Trump. Even with a set of institutions that gives it major structural advantages, a party that appeals mostly to older white folks is a minority party that will be increasingly irrelevant. But, aside from an optimistic message and some broadly conservative ideas, it has to get past Reagan, too. 2021 isn’t 1981 and 2024 won’t be 1984.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    For some reason, I am reminded of Kremlinologists parsing comuniques from Soviet functionaries, and finding criticisms of Brezhnev or the Soviet system.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    The idea that Ryan is a conservative of any stripe misses the mark. His political philosophy never made it beyond college bull session discussing Ayn Rand. He’s never been anything more than an opportunist, with nothing more to offer than his good looks and a faux wonkish charm. He correctly realizes that no one associated with Trump will ever become President but he doesn’t have the balls or desire to actually confront him.

  3. Barry says:

    When somebody on the right uses ‘conservative’ or ‘conservatism’, they are obfuscating (to be generous).

    The current Right is pure power, with zero principles.

  4. Jon says:

    Game recognizes game. Paul Ryan is a grifter, just of a different sort than the Former Guy.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    There is a certain irony in a long-ago-forgotten R-party Congressman saying from a platform in the Reagan Library that “If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality or on a second rate imitation then we’re not going anywhere.”

    Or there would be if the ‘conservative cause’ had not killed off irony decades ago.

  6. CSK says:

    Ryan should have just gone ahead and called out Trump by name. The Trumpkins have hated his guts for years, and are gleefully trashing him for the remarks he made Thursday night. At this point, what does he have to lose?

  7. Scott F. says:

    Honest question, James. If it’s not Trumpism or Reaganism, what’s the viable path for conservatism?

    Given the different context you’ve described since Reagan, how is a “conservatism that wants most political decisions made at the state and local level, that prefers national defense to the top priority of the federal government, and wants to keep the tax burden low” still viable? The central government is dysfunctional, polarized, and weak. The defense is the highest spending priority in the discretionary budget by far. The tax burden is historically low. Your version of conservatism is winning the day is it not?

    Yet, the Republican base is beyond disgruntled, so they may not want what such conservatives think they want. At the same time, the GOP has to resort to alternative facts and anti-majoritarian tactics to hold power, so a broader appeal of such conservatism would appear questionable.

    What am I missing?

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    You’re not missing anything. There are three branches to American conservatism, each is dead, Jim.

    Neo-cons: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, ’nuff said.
    Libertarians: Still searching for the slightest scintilla of evidence that a successful nation can be libertarian.
    Religious/authoritarians: morphed into a personality cult that worships an Orange Calf.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Libya, not Lebanon. EDIT!!!!

  10. Kylopod says:

    He added that Republican voters would “not be impressed by the sight of yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago.”

    We all know, of course, that Ryan would be one of these yes-men were he still in Congress. A positive first step would be admitting this.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    The Republican Party is schizoid, and has been for a long time. It’s a party of a pro-corporate, pro wealth elite who pander to a “populist” base to get votes. (Populist in quotes because populism seeks to give power to the common people to seek their real interests while what the GOPs have is pandering to the basest base instincts of the base in order to divide the common people.) Dr. T occasionally mentions the party in government and the party in the electorate. When speaking of Republicans we need to be clear which Republicans we’re talking about. And the distinction is getting murky as the inmates threaten to take over the asylum. A Gym Jordan or the Greene person may well be dumb enough to believe what they say. Paul Ryan is far from an Einstein, but he still knows better than to say what he really thinks.

    For a long time the GOP Party has been driven by corporate and large donor money. And that situation also seems murky now. I read that Finance contributions went mostly to Hillary, and now to Biden. I read conservatives saying corporate money now heavily favors Ds.

    I’ve found little good information on the current state of political finance. Everybody says, “Follow the money.”, but nobody does. (Yes, I’m too lazy to spend several days on opensecrets.org or followthemoney.org. Nor am I confident they have a handle on the darker dark money.)

    It could be the corporate GOPs really are shifting D in response to the craziness of the R Party. I also see conservatives almost driving them out in a confused effort to actually be an anti-elite Party. We could end up with a center party and a partially populist herrenvolk party.

  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Such bullshit…this p*ssy couldn’t even name Trump…and kinda failed to mention that he works for Fox News who is as responsible for this cult of personality as anyone.

    Today another nail was put in the coffin of our Democratic Republic. I hope you are all watching, and paying attention, to the end of America.

  13. Kingdaddy says:

    I’m trying to figure out the brilliant, n-dimensional strategy behind criticizing people for supporting Trump, but not actually naming him. Everyone knows who He Who Shall Be Obeyed is. Ryan is going to get backlash from both the Hamberdler and his followers. So what does the avoidance of calling out Trump by name accomplish, exactly, other than make Ryan look as though he’s afraid of him?

    Outside of Republican notables (not “leaders,” by any meaning of that word), you have to go to baboon troupes to find this level of terror of a feces-sling alpha.

  14. just nutha says:

    The former speaker tempered his criticism by avoiding any mention of Mr. Trump by name…

    Well of course he did! He’s got to get these yahoos to vote for him. What’s the over/under for him deciding to run as Trump 2.0 in 2024 (especially if the GOP wins back control of the House, Senate, or both in 2022)? It’s possible that “wonky” Trump will sell by then.

  15. just nutha says:

    @Scott F.: “… that prefers national defense to the top priority of the federal government…”

    Side question: How does one “prefer national defense…” in a country that has endless military incursions/presence across the globe other than by maintaining the status quo?

  16. just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Lebanon worked just fine in that slot–long status as a failed state subject to feckless US policy decisions.

  17. Kingdaddy says:

    @Kathy: That’s a very compelling comparison, between modern Republican notables and their Communist counterparts of past generations. Republican notables used to be people for whom Darkness At Noon was required reading, and who made complaints that liberals didn’t take Communist tyranny seriously enough. Now, they’ve fully embraced the same oeuvre of big lies, strict party orthodoxy, savage suppression of dissent, and other traits of Communist regimes and the Comintern.

  18. just nutha says:

    @Kingdaddy: Conservatives may well have been projecting in the criticism of Marxist/Maoist practice to keep out “pretenders to the throne” if you will.

  19. Kathy says:


    It’s a feature in all authoritarian and totalitarian dictatorships.

    There are real differences between Soviet Communism and Italian/German Fascism, but in governing style and methods they were nearly the same.

  20. Gustopher says:

    Unless he is calling The Big Lie a lie, what’s the point?

    Profiles In Irrelevance!

  21. flat earth luddite says:

    @Scott F.:
    Our current level of “conservative” leaders seem to view ‘Merica’s role as more “Team America World Police” than “World Police,” as far as I can tell. Of course, as always, YMMV.

    @just nutha:
    As B’rer Rabbit noted, the problem is ALWAYS in letting go of the tar ball. Besides, of course, watching the whole magilla crash into 1/100th of the population centered around your local village. And trading beans for your neighbor’s corn.

    Personally, I’m just tired of watching the next politician with zero real world experience but a hankering to run shit to fwak everything up worse than the goofball before him/her/it. I keep waiting for someone to say, “Hey, if we serve our people well, and if everyone has enough and we’re not driving people into being destitute, maybe we won’t end up strung up from lampposts. ” But like the boy cleaning out the stable, I’m fated to be disappointed by the lack of a pony.

  22. JKB says:

    There is terror in DC and the broader political circles that the second Republican president in the last 60 years will continue to make a difference and not let the century old pattern of acquiescence return. But Trump showed that things can be different. And Trump broadened the appeal of conservatism and the Republican party beyond the Romney/Ryan mostly older white people. And that is most terrifying of all to Democrats and the career DC bureaucrats who lean hard Left.

    After all, it doesn’t take to many blacks to move toward conservatism to wipe out Democrat prospects. And a kinder, gentler Make America Great Again candidate could be a draw.

    Without getting into the comparative defects of Clinton and Trump (disclosure: I’m #NeverTrump), I think it’s useful to remind everyone of the ways in which having a Republican president hasn’t made all that much difference for the last fifty years, with Ronald Reagan as the one exception.

    –Charles Murray, AEIdeas, May 2016

    Turns out, now there are two Republican presidents who made a difference. They psychosis is still raw on Trump’s time in office, but Biden is proving to be a high contrast to Trump, at least in the economy, jobs, foreign relations, and even media ratings that keep journalists in their salaries.

  23. Mikey says:


    But Trump showed that things can be different.

    He did do that.

    The problem is all the people like you who don’t understand how horrible different was.

    Different led to the rise of a new American fascism, a couple hundred thousand needlessly dead from COVID, an actual insurrection, and the spread of a Big Lie that would have made Goebbels blush with pride.

  24. JKB says:


    People toss that word, fascism, around without really comprehending what it was. It is not Trump, but rather Democrats who have been pushing the US toward the German pattern of socialism, the Zwangswirtschaft (compulsory economy) of the Nazis. It is the Democrats, not Trump, who are going their political opponents with violence and pressure to have them fired or prosecuted. But you keep on believing in your fantasy.

    The Dictatorial, Anti-Democratic and Socialist Character of Interventionism

    Many advocates of interventionism are bewildered when one tells them that in recommending interventionism they themselves are fostering anti-democratic and dictatorial tendencies and the establishment of totalitarian socialism. They protest that they are sincere believers and opposed to tyranny and socialism. What they aim at is only the improvement of the conditions of the poor. They say that they are driven by considerations of social justice, and favour a fairer distribution of income precisely because they are intent upon preserving capitalism and its political corollary or superstructure, viz., democratic government.

    What these people fail to realize is that the various measures they suggest are not capable of bringing about the beneficial results aimed at. On the contrary they produce a state of affairs which from the point of view of their advocates is worse than the previous state which they were designed to alter. If the government, faced with this failure of its first intervention, is not prepared to undo its interference with the market and to return to a free economy, it must add to its first measure more and more regulations and restrictions. Proceeding step by step on this way it finally reaches a point in which all economic freedom of individuals has disappeared. Then socialism of the German pattern, the Zwangswirtschaft of the Nazis, emerges.

    –von Mises, Ludwig (1947). Planned Chaos

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    The words of a liar are meaningless. You’re a liar. You have nothing to offer but more lies. You’re just noise.

  26. just nutha says:

    @flat earth luddite: Just to be clear, there’s no unicorn in there, either.

  27. just nutha says:

    @JKB: Does the Kool-ade you’re drinking come in container load lots? Tanker trucks? The potential of selling this to stoners is almost unlimited. WA!

  28. James Joyner says:

    @Scott F.: @Michael Reynolds: There are viable conservative parties in most of the developed world. Germany and Australia have been governed by them for quite a while now. Ditto the UN, although it’s a mess right now in the wake of Brexit.

  29. Mikey says:


    People toss that word, fascism, around without really comprehending what it was. It is not Trump, but rather Democrats who have been pushing the US toward the German pattern of socialism, the Zwangswirtschaft (compulsory economy) of the Nazis.

    Ich hab in Deutschland sieben Jahre gewohnt und eine Deustche Staatsbuergerin geheiratet. Meine Frau kennt ganz sicher was der Faschismus war, und ist, und ist nicht. Die Trump-Unterstuetzer sind die neue Faschisten, sagt sie, und meine eigene Studium ueber die NS-Zeit bringt mich dazu, sie zuzustimmen. Es braucht nur einen Tour des Dokuzentrums in Nuernberg, dass zu verstehen.

    See, I know some German words too. Ganz selbst beigebracht.

  30. Kylopod says:


    the second Republican president in the last 60 years

    Gerald Ford?

  31. CSK says:

    I believe JKB means that Ford wasn’t a real Republican. Only Reagan and Trump, a lifelong whatever-it-was-convenient-for him-to-be-at-any-given-time, were real Republicans. Richard Nixon wasn’t a real Republican, either.

  32. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner:
    If viability requires expatriation, then I agree conservatism has a future. Though I suppose that Germans and Aussies define national defense prioritization and low tax burden markedly differently than even you, let alone the rank & file American conservative.

  33. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere.”

    Paul? You’ve been stuck on 2nd base for 40 years.

    Also, who GaF what Paul Ryan thinks?

  34. dazedandconfused says:

    He added that Republican voters would “not be impressed by the sight of yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago.”

    There Ryan asserts a fact not in evidence.

    I quite agree, the Rs need new ideas which address current problems. Merely following an ideology without a clear idea of how it addresses today’s problems is classic Underpants Gnome. This is the basis of Trump’s appeal. Trump acts utterly confident. 1. ELECT ME! 2. ? 3. JOBS!
    The Rust Belt hadn’t rusted when Ronnie was POTUS. Consider how many of those Jan 1 rioters were in financial trouble, Mr Ryan, do they even vaguely resemble the crowds who came to hear Reagan?

  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    A viable conservative party in most of Europe is ideologically about the equivalent of our Democratic Party. There are no serious foreign conservative parties straining to outlaw abortion, take away health care, put more guns in more hands, or barge militarily into other people’s countries. There are fascist parties very much aligned with our Republican Party, and there are Catholic parties very much aligned with, oh, let’s say the Spanish Inquisition*.

    The conservative notion that more decision-making should be more local is to imagine that Arkansas knows better than Washington. It doesn’t. If Arkansas knew anything it wouldn’t be Arkansas.

    Corruption and racism exist at all levels of government but at the national level there is at least a countervailing force or forces. I happen to be in Johnson City, TN at the moment, (drinking a Manhattan at the Carnegie Hotel**) where the yokels voted about 7 to 1 for Trump. Do you imagine for a moment that a Black man or an Asian woman or a gay teacher is being looked after by the local government? Or do you think maybe the local government represents white business owners?

    “Local government” is just a new label for “state’s rights” which means “white supremacy”, as it always has in this country. The federal government isn’t always ahead of state governments (marijuana) but overall it outperforms the locals. And “small government” means, “don’t tell me I cain’t beat my wife, make my gay son turn straight, and keep ni–ers out of my neighborhood.” “Small government” is a cry for more people to be bankrupted by medical expenses, and the synonym for “less regulation” is “pollution.”

    We’re talking lately about the Tulsa massacre.*** Think that was better handled at the local level? By the cops who were shooting Black women in the streets and burning Black businesses?

    I’m sorry to be blunt, but your political belief system is b.s. Your preferred brand of politics had its apotheosis in Trump and the attempted overthrow of the United States. Conservatism is a dead letter for any thinking person. You may not be ready to acknowledge it, but I have faith in you, you’ll get there.

    *Weren’t expecting that, were you. It’s OK: no one ever does.
    ** Not relevant, but I like a bit of scene-setting.
    *** I wrote about it in a YA trilogy like 6 years ago, but whatevah.

  36. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: I often put “conservative” in”” because it’s one of those words that seems to have no consistent definition. It’s a commonplace that European, and I imagine the Australian, conservative parties are, on any absolute ideological scale, much closer to American Ds than Rs, possibly further left. I think you’re right to set the current Brit situation off to the side. But yes, European experience would argue that it’s possible to have a party that’s called “conservative” that isn’t nuts. But I don’t see the relevance to our current “conservative” party.

    ETA, Reynolds can speak for himself, and beat me by “that much”.

  37. gVOR08 says:

    @Mikey: Thank gawd for Google Translate. Well argued.

    I will take the liberty of adding that there is obviously right now one party trying to protect and expand democratic elections and one party that is aggressively trying to sabotage democratic elections.

  38. flat earth luddite says:

    @just nutha: Yeah, the lack of sparkly shit WAS a big clue, wasn’t it?

  39. flat earth luddite says:

    Of course Nixon wasn’t a real Republican… he wouldn’t let us bomb those godless Commies in Vietnam, after all.

    And it’s obvious to me who went back to the tent for a third helping of Kool-Aide, sorry, I gave it up back when I had a draft number.

  40. Ryan has been out of politics for years. Why diesel he mention Yrump by na m.name?

    We all know who he’s referring to

  41. Trump has responded

  42. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “Local government” is just a new label for “state’s rights” which means “white supremacy”, as it always has in this country.

    Yeah, “states’ rights” was code for “don’t let the federal government tell you you have to desegregate”. It’s worth remembering that the religious right didn’t originally coalesce around abortion, they coalesced around opposition to desegregation. Bob Jones University didn’t even allow interracial dating until the year 2000.

    I can just imagine the cretins who were trying to police those rules.
    “So you, Jennifer, you’re half Malaysian and half Laotian, is that correct?”
    “And you, Tyrone, you’re half Jamaican and half Chinese?”
    “Yes. So can we date?”
    “Hmmm. You can date. I’m gonna write both y’all down as High Yellow.”

  43. Raoul says:

    Pray tell has Paul Ryan ever done anything positive or good?

  44. de stijl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I enjoy alcohol too.

    That was an interestingly spelled comment.

  45. de stijl says:


    This is very true.

    But, I would like to face a political opponent like Ryan over a Trump obsessed idiot.

    I will take a rational opponent every day. An Id based yahoo careening about wrecking everything because they can cannot be bargained with or form a nobody gets everything they want compromise.

    A Ryan type would consider and perhaps an imperfect compromise.

    A Trumpist would not on principle. Win all or die trying is a bad trait in politicians.

    A bad trait many R pols now exhibit.

  46. Eric the OTB Lurker says:


    People toss that word, fascism, around without really comprehending what it was.

    Which you literally demonstrate with everything that comes after that sentence.