Opinion writer

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Why did House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) slither into Donald Trump’s camp on Thursday? Because, for Ryan, the ideological agenda apparently overrides all other considerations.

In an op-ed, Ryan explained that his reluctance to endorse Trump had been more about whether the presumptive GOP nominee would get on board with the speaker’s policy ambitions than about, say, Trump’s bigoted demagoguery. “We need a Republican president willing to sign [GOP policies] into law,” he wrote. “That’s why, when he sealed the nomination, I could not offer my support for Donald Trump before discussing policies and basic principles.”

The turning point for Ryan, apparently, was not a promise that Trump would stop lying, insulting minority groups or threatening reporters. It was when Ryan determined that Trump would support enough of “the House policy agenda.” What a relief!

“I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws,” Ryan assured us. This is important, the speaker argued, because passing his agenda is crucial for “saving our country.”

Ryan’s is the shallow moral calculus of the ideological fanatic. While the speaker is hung up on whether Trump is sufficiently doctrinaire, Trump is challenging a variety of democratic norms, institutions and values, from basic honesty to the free press to respect for the vulnerable. These are more fundamental issues than Ryan’s precious agenda; they concern how the country will conduct its politics and how the public relates to its government. Ryan, however, was apparently impressed that Trump might sign some laws the speaker very badly wants.

“Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults,” Ryan said in March. But supporting Trump makes a different statement: If insults result in ideological victories, they can be overlooked — and the boorish bullies hurling them can be endorsed by people who once claimed to stand for something better.