The emerging meme that Paul Ryan is “spineless” gives him far too much credit. It implies that he would like to stand up to Trump but lacks courage. But I have no idea why anyone thinks standing up to Trump is his preference. He’s a full-on Trump supporter and collaborator because Trump can help him fulfill his longtime goals of passing massive upper-class tax cuts and brutalizing the poor:
It is true that Ryan does not care about the principles he claims to care about. But it’s inaccurate to imagine him as merely a soulless careerist. Ryan does have serious principles. He is deeply committed to the principle of liberating the affluent from the burdens of progressive taxation. That description may sound like an arch comment to those of us who don’t share Ryan’s bent. But to people like Ryan, it is a moral conviction of the highest order.
Obviously, the defense of the right of the one percent to keep its earnings is an unpopular basis for political messaging. And so Ryan has an ecumenical view of the political message needed to sell his policies. He is happy to posture as a fanatical debt hawk if debt-hawkery is a promising vehicle to advance the goal of cutting taxes for the rich, but he will also support and even demand massively higher deficits if that is what is needed. Ryan has promoted outreach to Latinos and other socially moderate constituencies as a practical step toward expanding his party’s base. Ryan continued to defend those policies before the election, when it looked probable that Trump would lose, and he would need to rebuild in the wake of the expected defeat. But he is also perfectly willing to abandon those policies if he happens to have a race-baiting Republican prepared to sign his cherished tax cuts into law.
Ryan might supplicate himself to limitless acts of corruption or misrule by Trump, but he would never stand silent if Trump attempted to implement even a tiny tax increase on the highest-earning one percent. I happen to find Ryan’s belief system to be rather deranged. But it is a belief system.
As long as Trump is willing to sign what Ryan and McConnell put on his desk, he’ll have their full support. Not because Ryan and McConnell are cowardly, but because Trump is useful to them and their substantively horrible and deeply unpopular agenda.