In a speech today, the House speaker argued that the ugly rhetoric that has driven the Republican primary has divided the country, degraded political discourse, and caused people to lose faith in the American government. Ryan argued that American democracy should be about testing arguments and ideas, not tearing people down. Trump was not mentioned, but this was a speech about Trump: “We are slipping into being a divisive country,” Ryan said. “We are speaking to each other in echo chambers.”
But it was also a speech about the pre-Trump GOP. Ryan repeatedly took himself to tack for failing to live up to these standards. “I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard,” he said. “There was a time when I would talk about a difference between ‘makers’ and ‘takers’ in our country. ... I was callous and I castigated people with a broad brush, and that was wrong.” The 2012 election, which was lost in part because of Mitt Romney’s version of makers and takers—the 53 percent vs. the 47 percent—clearly had an impact on Ryan, and, as McKay Coppins has reported, he’s spent much of the last four years speaking to poor people across the country.
Ryan’s speech essentially tried to articulate a return to George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism. It was both a post-mortem for the 2012 election and a preliminary post-mortem for the 2016 election. The problem is that the Republican Party conducted an actual post-mortem after 2012 and no one listened. Why should we believe that this time will be any different?