Paul Ryan, con-man

So, obviously, far-and-away the most successful political con-man of our time is sitting in the Oval Office.  But there’s a good case to be made for Paul Ryan as a close second.  So many good takes.  Obviously, when it comes to Ryan, how you can you not start with Chait.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring before he can lose his majority, and potentially his own seat in Congress, but too late to save his reputation.

The key to Ryan’s rise was that very few people understand who he was or where he came from. Ryan was a conservative-movement ideologue devoted to supply-side economics. During the Bush administration, Ryan demanded larger increases to the budget deficit than those he dismissed as “the green-eyeshade, austerity wing of the party” could swallow. He demanded larger debt-financed tax cuts, and tried to drum up support for a debt-financed Social Security privatization scheme that the Bush administration rejected as fiscally irresponsible. As a back-bench ideologue, he attracted little attention except from a handful of conservatives who agreed with his ideas.

And so the image of Paul Ryan that was introduced to the country was as America’s accountant, the Kevin Kline character from Dave, an earnest midwestern boy with a passion for saving the country from fiscal calamity. The kind of nightmare Ryan imagined was a very peculiar dystopian fantasy. Ryan believed the Obama administration was undermining the moral foundations of American society by redistributing too much income from the makers to the takers… [emphases mine]

Ryan inhabited this peculiar role because the news media, having concluded that the Obama administration had forsaken bipartisanship and irresponsibly inflated the deficit, desperately needed someone to play the part it had cast. The fact that Ryan personally and repeatedly undermined every single bipartisan negotiation to reduce the deficit — opposing the Bowles-Simpson plan, direct negotiations with the administration, and a compromise Obama hoped to strike using the fiscal cliff as a prod — did not shake loose his reputation.

What finally killed off the myth of Paul Ryan was Donald Trump. Here was a figure who absolutely revolted the same elites Ryan had cultivated. In the face of something as large and obvious and grotesque as Trump, Ryan could no longer straddle the gap between his base and the national media. He tried, for a while, by publicly standing behind his party’s nominee while signaling his discomfort sub rosa

The critics who flay Ryan as a coward have never understood that his actions are a form of idealism. To Ryan, the greatest danger to liberty lies not in a president who defies the rule of law but in high tax rates and a functioning social safety net. When Ryan speaks with pride about the policy accomplishments he helped carry out with Trump, he is not spinning. In Ryan’s worldview, he has struck a powerful blow for liberty against the socialist hordes. Ryan leaves his endangered majority convinced he has done his job well. It is a triumph of his own propaganda that so few people believe he is actually sincere about this.

That said, I think Brian Beutler’s succinct take was actually my favorite:

Paul Ryan amassed political power through simple deception. In 2009, he cast himself as a Paul Revere-like figure, called upon by duty to alert the public that Democratic efforts to address a global economic crisis were actually making the crisis worse. Liberal profligacy, he warned, would bankrupt America, and only by electing Republicans—the green eyeshade party—could the country stave off even greater disaster.

The truth, as he well knew, was precisely the opposite. Democrats were governing carefully through a calamity, and Ryan was the uncompromising ideologue, hell bent on slashing taxes and services for the poor, Great Recession or no. But his story stuck, and with the help of a gullible press corps, he rode the myth of his own studiousness all the way to the speakership. When an ignorant, reckless, criminal autocrat commandeered Ryan’s party, Ryan decided that kleptocracy, racism, national and global instability, and the normalization of sexual assault by powerful men, were prices the rest of us ought to bear so that his dream of unifying Republican government and gutting the safety net didn’t have to die.

Damn, that’s good.  Jonathan Bernstein:

By choosing not to seek re-election, Ryan is once again putting his own reputation above the party’s. Even worse, he’s sending a strong message to Republican Party actors that he expects to lose their House majority. That will encourage donors to close their wallets and depress the energy of activists. It may even push some other incumbents to retire. That’s nothing new: Ryan excels at ducking blame, rather than working to find solutions that might protect his conference.

David Graham, also with the cowardice theme:

Yet if a sense of duty is what motivated Ryan to take the speaker’s gavel, he is turning his back on duty by deciding to leave. Faced with an out-of-control president of his own party, the speaker has decided he’d rather quit than deal with it. Ryan’s retirement caps more than a year in which the House, along with the Senate, has abdicated its responsibility to hold the executive branch in check. Retirement just formally ratifies what has been clear since January 2017.

Time after time, Republican members of Congress have had opportunities to hold Trump accountable, on matters ranging from personal conduct to political interference in criminal investigations to the fighting of wars, and time after time, they have opted against.

love Seth Masket’s tweet that perfectly mocks the foolish people who are still willing to believe in the decent Paul hiding deep inside.

Jennifer Rubin unleashes as a disappointed former Ryan-believer:

Fifth, Ryan’s departure makes his refusal to remove from committees characters such as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — who colluded with the White House in smearing the FBI and wrecking the intelligence-oversight system — all the more inexplicable. Why not take the heat to do the right thing, especially if Ryan is not going to run anyway? The lack of political courage still stuns onlookers who regarded Ryan at one time as a genuine policy wonk and serious leader.

Of course, Rubin is stunned; those of us who’ve seen through him all along, less so.  And like a lover scorned, Rubin unleashes in her conclusion:

In sum, Ryan retreats from the scene after loading the country up with debt and leaving virtually every other agenda item save tax cuts undone. He fantasized that in backing Trump, who lacks conservative principles (or any principles), he’d have carte blanche to enact the entire GOP agenda. He made his Faustian bargain with Trump on the false assumption that Trump would be compliant, take direction from House Republicans and demonstrate enough discipline to get through a slew of initiatives. That did not come to pass, because Ryan, in making his disastrous decision to place party over country and corporate tax cuts over defense of democratic values, failed to comprehend the depth of Trump’s unfitness and the centrality of character in determining a president’s success.

Instead of achieving the entire GOP agenda, Ryan will leave a besmirched legacy defined by his decision to back, enable and defend Trump, no matter how objectionable Trump’s rhetoric and conduct. Ryan has come to embody the nasty scourge of tribalism that dominates our politics. The inability to separate partisan loyalty from patriotic obligation — or to assess the interests of the country and the need to defend democratic norms and institutions — is proving to be the downfall of the Republican Party and the principal threat to our liberal (small “l”) democracy. And no one is more responsible for this than Ryan. No one.

Rubin’s column also has some nice analysis on potential electoral implications:

One can hardly imagine a more obvious signal that Ryan fears the prospect, if not of losing his own seat, than of losing the majority and hence his speakership. In the past, speakers — understanding the demoralizing impact that premature white-flag-waving would have on their troops — had the good sense to wait until after the election to announce that they would exit the leadership of their party. Ryan’s move has several consequences…

Second, this is a flashing light to donors and candidates on both sides. For Republican money-men, the message is: Don’t throw away cash trying to save the House. (One wonders whether Ryan, previously a strong fundraiser, will still be able to get donors to open their wallets when he’s abandoning ship.) For Democrats, it will be further encouragement to add to the record number of candidates and to get on board for a Democratic sweep. In a wave year with the GOP leaderless, why not throw your hat into the ring?

And last, 538’s Harry Enten (who apparently is writing for CNN now) brings the numbers:

In other words, Democrats pick up a net of 24 seats. Democrats only need to net 23 seats to win the House majority.
This distribution, however, misses a rather key point. The side that eventually picks up seats tends to do a lot better than the seat ratings suggest at this time. And usually, it is pretty clear which side is going to pick up seats. This year it’s almost certainly the Democrats.
When a party is going to pick up seats, they usually not only to do a very good job at holding the seats that are rated to go to them but also do a good job at picking up seats that the other side is actually favored to win. Put another way, seat-by-seat estimates at this point tend to underestimate the extent of the wave.
Here’s how the party that picks up seats on average does compared to the ratings at this point:
  • They win 99.8% of the seats they are solid in and even 1.3% of the seats that are solid for the other party.
  • They win 99.2% of the seats they are likely to win and 24% of the seats the other party is likely to win.
  • They win 90% of the seats that lean in their direction and 42% of the seat that lean in the other party’s direction.
  • Finally, the party that ends up gaining seats in the midterm win on average 68% of the seats rated as tossups at this point.
If apply this distribution to the current state of play, you’d end up with Democrats winning 233 seats in the House to just 202 for the Republicans. That’s a net gain of 38 seats for the Democrats.

L’etat c’est Trump

So much to say about Trump and Cohen, but, what I find most profound and disturbing is Trump characterizing this as “an attack on our country.”  Louis XIV may be familiar with such rhetoric.  And, while I was at it, looks like I’m not the first to see Trump in this formulation.

As for the legal and political matters, so much good stuff written on this.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare:

I will put this as bluntly as I know how: There is no way that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York would have sought or executed a search warrant against the president’s lawyer without overpowering evidence to support the action.  [emphasis mine]

In short, this search warrant is apparently not about L’Affaire Russe. The FBI raided the office of the president’s personal lawyer on a matter related to L’Affaire Stormy. That means that prosecutors were able to show probable cause of criminal activity connected to Cohen’s representation of the president on matters far removed from Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, obstruction of justice or any of the other matters within Mueller’s purview. Notably, this subject matter metastasis coincides with a bureaucratic metastasis as well. It was not, after all, Mueller who sought or received the warrant.

I finally get to find out who Popehat (and many other hats in his twitter handle) is.  Ken White in NYT:

What does this tell us? First, it reflects that numerous officials — not just Mr. Mueller — concluded that there was probable cause to believe that Mr. Cohen’s law office, home and hotel room contained evidence of a federal crime. A search warrant for a lawyer’s office implicates the attorney-client privilege and core constitutional rights, so the Department of Justice requires unusual levels of approval to seek one. Prosecutors must seek the approval of the United States attorney of the district — in this case the office of Geoffrey Berman, the interim United States attorney appointed by President Trump.

Prosecutors must also consult with the criminal division of the Justice Department in Washington. Finally, prosecutors must convince a United States magistrate judge that there’s probable cause to support the search. Faced with a warrant application destined for immediate worldwide publicity, the judge surely took unusual pains to examine it. This search was not the result of Mr. Mueller or his staff “going rogue.”

Second, the search demonstrates that federal prosecutors and supervisors in the Justice Department concluded that Mr. Cohen could not be trusted to preserve and turn over documents voluntarily…

Third, the search suggests that prosecutors most likely believe that Mr. Cohen’s clients used his legal services for the purpose of engaging in crime or fraud. Attorney-client communications are privileged, which is why it’s so unusual and difficult for prosecutors to get approval to search a law office. Justice Department regulations require federal prosecutors to set up a system to have a separate group — a so-called dirty team — review the files and separate out attorney-client communications so that the investigators and prosecutors won’t see anything protected by the privilege.

But if a client is using a lawyer’s services for the purpose of engaging in crime or fraud, there is no privilege. The very aggressive search of Mr. Cohen’s office for attorney-client files suggests that the prosecutors believe they can convince a judge that communications between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen fall under the crime-fraud exception. If you think they can’t pull that off, think again — they’ve already done it once: Mr. Mueller persuaded a judge to apply the exception to compel testimony from Paul Manafort’s lawyer, arguing successfully that he engaged her services in order to commit fraud.

And love this from Paul Waldman.  Trump is so obviously a crook in so many ways, that, damn, this stuff just has to catch up with him now matter how he tries to use his powers of office to subvert the rule of law:

Let’s take a step back. One remarkable thing about the 2016 election is the way Trump’s business career was given such a superficial examination by the media as a whole. Again and again, some crazy story or unusual aspect of his financial life would be the topic of one or two investigative stories, but those stories wouldn’t get picked up by other outlets.

Making this more problematic, Trump isn’t someone who played close to the line a time or two, or once did a shady deal. He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America. He ran scams like Trump University to con struggling people out of their money. He lent his name to pyramid schemes. He bankrupted casinos and still somehow made millions while others were left holding the bag. He refused to pay vendors. He exploited foreign workers. He used illegal labor. He discriminated against African American renters. He violated Federal Trade Commission rules on stock purchases. He did business with the mob and with Eastern European kleptocrats. His properties became the go-to vehicle for Russian oligarchs and mobsters to launder their money.

So it was no accident that when he ran for president, the people who joined him in his quest were also a collection of grifters, liars, and crooks — people such as Paul Manafort. Those were the kind of operators Trump has attracted all his life. Honest, upright people with a deep respect for the law don’t go to work for Donald Trump.

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