Because of his role in legitimizing Donald Trump, I had thought Paul Ryan owned Trump — owned him in the sense that Ryan had personal responsibility for all the damage Trump has done and will do.
But the truth is that Donald Trump now owns Paul Ryan. Ryan may be under the delusion that it will be the other way around, but if Donald Trump is elected president it will be Trump who calls the tune and Ryan will be the one who has to dance to it. That is likely to be the case even if Trump loses, which I expect he will.
In Isaac Chotiner’s smart interview with historian Robert Paxton in February (“Is Donald Trump a Fascist,” Slate, 2/10/16), Paxton said this about the German analogy from the early 1930s:
There was a conscious decision by the conservatives who were still holding the machinery of power to bring the fascists and the Nazis into the system in order to better fight the left. That particular dynamic is of course completely absent now…The old guard (here) is against Trump. They’re not trying to use him.”
Remember, this was in February, when there was still an expectation that Trump would be beaten for the nomination. But Paxton went on to say, “They (the conservative establishment) may shift, they may decide that if Trump continues to be successful that he could be useful.”
And so it came to pass. Paul Ryan, along with many others in the Republican leadership, has decided that Trump indeed can be useful. On this weekend before the election Ryan writes: “Take a look at what a unified Republican government can get you. And then vote Republican — Donald Trump, our Senate candidates, and our House candidates — so we can start turning things around.”
But here’s the rub: It would be Trump’s version of turning things around that matters, and Donald Trump would be the one setting the agenda. Mr. Speaker, if you didn’t get the memo on what Trump’s vision for our country is, watch Trump’s closing ad, “Donald Trump’s Argument For America” (aka “Trump’s Kampf”).
Long presidential campaigns bring out the best and worst of candidates, and in Donald Trump’s case it has been pretty much all bad. But this campaign also has given us a good look at the true character of Paul Ryan. It is not a pretty picture.