House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Opinion writer


House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has dismissed the House chaplain, outraging Catholics in the lower chamber, and this morning’s speculation has centered on a prayer offered by the chaplain that was critical of the GOP tax law. In that prayer, Rev. Patrick J. Conroy urged members of the House to ensure that “there are not winners and losers” under the new law, but rather “benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

In an interview this morning, Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia said that Conroy told him he thought this prayer was a cause of his dismissal. “He speculated that this might be the reason,” Connolly told me. Conroy has publicly made similar suggestions elsewhere, and Ryan’s office has refused to explain the decision.

“A Catholic priest, a Jesuit like the Pope, committed to the social justice doctrine of the church, mildly encouraged members to keep fairness in mind as we contemplated the tax bill,” Connolly told me. “It reminds me of the line in Henry II, ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'”

We can’t be sure this was the reason for the dismissal. But this affair does provide an occasion to look at Paul Ryan’s worldview, which has shaped much GOP fiscal policy in recent years and probably will do so after he is gone.

At times, Ryan has declared himself an apostle of the radical individualism of Ayn Rand. In 2009 he claimed that Rand’s achievement was to explain “the morality of capitalism,” which he described as “the morality of individuals working towards their own free will, to produce, to achieve to succeed.” This, he said, was under “attack” by Barack Obama. (See Osita Nwanevu’s forensic exploration of Ryan’s evolving philosophy.)

As Jonathan Chait details, Ryan has long believed, as many libertarians do, that taxes and the safety net are paramount threats to individual liberty, both because redistribution is confiscation from the productive “makers” and because (as he has expressed on other occasions) the safety net squelches individual initiative, turning them into “takers.” (Ryan has at times allowed party loyalty to trump his ideas, voting for “compassionate conservative” redistributive policies.) But Ryan does not see this philosophy as at odds with his Catholicism. He has tried to reconcile the two, claiming that humans do need the wisdom of God, but that this should lead us to attack the “root causes” of poverty and take long term debt seriously.

Yes, the tax law confers enormous benefits on the wealthy and as a result will exacerbate our long term fiscal mess, but this is morally justified because it rolls back redistribution, and besides, the resulting deficit is still the fault of all the other spending we do on social programs. Regardless, cutting taxes and spending — whatever happens to the deficit — is a moral imperative, because it maximizes liberty.

Taken all together, Ryan seems to believe the only morally legitimate distributive outcomes are ones that flow from completely unfettered voluntary exchange (or as close as we can get to it), that this will liberate the poor (via deregulation that will unshackle mobility), and that this is what God dictates (in keeping with “natural rights libertarianism,” in which the right to the fruits of one’s labor is pre-political and created by God).

In his prayer about the GOP tax bill, Father Conroy didn’t just call for “balance.” He also called on members to be “mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.” Underlying this view is the idea that distributive outcomes aren’t merely driven by individual initiative, but rather are shaped in part by brute luck and our collective institutional arrangements, so we must design those arrangements in keeping with some standard of distributive justice rather than hold out for an unachievable libertarian utopia of unfettered and immaculately just market outcomes.

John Gehring says this Ryan ideal is a perversion of Catholicism. Connolly agrees, telling me: “Catholicism has a broad social justice component that’s communitarian, that says, we all have a responsibility to each other to lift our fellow humans up.” Ryan would likely insist that unfettered voluntary exchange constitutes its own form of social cooperation that would do this most effectively (a view that’s very hard to reconcile with our history and the real world around us). As such, whether or not this drove the chaplain’s dismissal, it is likely Ryan found his prayer ideologically offensive.

* GOP STRATEGISTS FRET ABOUT TRUMP ‘BANANA REPUBLIC’: The Post reports that some Republican strategists worry the mounting misconduct of administration officials could impact the midterms. Here’s how strategist Steve Schmidt puts it:

“We’re living in a season of corruption the likes of which we haven’t seen but in a banana republic … Everywhere you look you see incompetence, malfeasance, self-dealing and corruption.”

Indeed. And Democrats can run on the idea that only a Dem Congress can provide a check on all of President Trump’s degradations.

* TRUMP HAS ‘BURNED THROUGH’ PERSONNEL: The New York Times takes stock of all the people who have worked for Trump and have paid the consequences:

In only 15 months in office, Mr. Trump has burned through a record number of advisers and associates who have found themselves in legal, professional or personal trouble, or even all three. Half of the top aides who came to the White House with Mr. Trump in 2017 are gone … either because they fell out with the boss or came under the harsh scrutiny that comes with him. … Even his lawyers now have lawyers as they face inquiries of their own.

As one former Trump executive puts it, Trump “completely lacks compassion and empathy,” and for him, “the recycling of people … means nothing to him.” And what have they gotten for it?

* WHITE HOUSE TIMELINE ON PORTER TAKES HIT: The Post reports that the White House was informed early last year that there were problems with former top aide and alleged abuser Rob Porter:

According to the FBI account provided this month to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, White House Counsel Donald McGahn first received “derogatory information” about Porter in March 2017. The letter did not say what the information included, but “derogatory information” often prevents individuals from receiving security clearances.

The White House has offered all kinds of shifting versions of what happened here, and it just looks worse and worse.

* GOP CANDIDATE MIMICS TRUMP’S AUTHORITARIANISM: Politico reports that GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York, who faces a tough challenge, is openly calling for Hillary Clinton and James B. Comey to be thrown in jail:

“Lock them up!” a Tenney campaign email blared on Tuesday, touting her call for a special counsel to investigate the Democrat presidential nominee and former FBI director. … some Republicans are nervous that she’s boxing herself into a posture that won’t play well in her center-right district.

More and more Republican candidates and incumbents are mimicking Trump’s authoritarianism in campaigns, which tells you where the GOP base really is these days.

* GOP SENATE RUSHES TO CONFIRM JUDGES: Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Senate Republicans are confirming Trump-nominated judges at a breakneck pace:

The Republican-led Senate confirmed Trump’s 15th appeals court nominee this week — more than the last five presidents at this juncture — with eight of the new judges in their 40s, and seven in their 50s. McConnell set the stage Thursday to confirm six more … The court realignment is the product of the Senate Republican leader playing a long game by holding up then-President Barack Obama’s court nominees and then closely collaborating with [the White House].

McConnell’s profound cynicism will have very far-reaching consequences, even if Democrats do take back the Senate.

* TRUMP’S ‘WAR ON THE POOR’: Paul Krugman looks at the range of policies Trump and Republicans are instituting that would make poor people more miserable, beginning with Ben Carson’s proposal to jack up rents on poor households:

[This] follows moves to sharply increase work requirements for those seeking food stamps. … the administration has been granting … waivers … to impose onerous new work requirements for recipients of Medicaid … Even the administration’s de facto financial deregulation — its systematic gutting of consumer financial protection — should be seen largely as an attack on the least well off, since poor families and less educated workers are the most likely victims of exploitative bankers.

But Trump is slashing corporate taxes, starting trade wars with China, deporting lots of immigrants and keeping out desperate refugees, all of which will do wonders for his economically anxious voters.

* TRUMP AIMS AT OWN FOOT, SHOOTS: On “Fox & Friends,” Trump said he would go after the Justice Department and suggested lawyer Michael Cohen may have represented him during the Stormy Daniels hush-money episode. CNN’s Stephen Collinson comments:

Given that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice … the President’s own admission that he would like to strong arm top US law enforcement agencies may be unwise. Trump may also have deepened his legal exposure regarding Cohen. … If there are issues with the payment, the President could now find himself being drawn deeper into the legal mess.

But who can punch through Trump’s #Foxlandia bubble and get this across to him?