Lately, we suspect that Paul Ryan must spend every day in a state of exquisite agony. Each day brings new agonizing things, and some more than others. At times, the speaker of the House, must wake up and already sense impending doom, such as the morning after news has broken that Ryan and other Republicans were caught on tape speculating that Donald Trump might be paid by the Russians.
Thursday was one of those days.
“There have been some members who have said, ‘We might be better with Vice President Pence,’ ” said a reporter at Ryan’s regularly scheduled news conference in the Capitol basement, implying a President Trump impeachment scenario.
“Oh, good grief,” Ryan said, appearing pained.
“What’s your take on that?”
“I-I-I. We shouldn’t even — I’m not even going to give credence to that. I’m not even going to comment on that. That’s — well, there’s not even a point making a comment on that.”
Another question: “Earlier this week, Senator McConnell said, ‘We could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things.’ ” the reporter asked. “Do you agree with that assessment?”
“Well, yeah,” said Ryan. “It’s always nice to have less drama.”
Did anyone want to ask questions about tax reform? Ryan asked. Did anyone want to talk about the technology-related bills that had passed that week, including one that would “bring the government into the age of cloud computing”?
The press seemed only mildly interested in cloud computing.
The night before, the deputy attorney general’s office announced the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s potential Russia ties. Just a few hours earlier, Ryan had been publicly asked whether he retained full confidence in the president.
“I do,” he had said, in the tone of a bridegroom who knows that it’s too late to return the tuxedo.
Then came the year-old recordings of Ryan and his colleagues, in which Ryan had told everyone else in the room to keep their mouths shut with their Russia-pays-Donald speculating. “No leaks,” he had said, following up with a sad et tu, Brute plea: “This is how we know we’re a real family.”
His communications staff spent Thursday morning tweeting that Ryan had been joking — “Obviously a joke. Media needs to get a grip.” — in between trying to get Ryan’s followers stoked about taxes: “Who’s up for a big-time hearing on TAX REFORM at Ways and Means?”
Ryan tweeted, too. He tweeted about NAFTA. He tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with the president of Colombia.
Earlier this week, some data analytics people analyzed several politicians’ Twitter accounts. They determined that Ryan was scientifically the most detested person in the survey. They determined this by calculating his ratio of retweets by other people (which are usually positive) to replies from other people (which are usually negative).
Ryan had a worse ratio than Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Mike Huckabee or Donald Trump.
The agony of Paul Ryan!
Five years ago he was wonky hope of the Republican Party, the would-be boy wonder to Mitt Romney’s would-be president. Less than two years ago, the man was fervently courted into his current job by colleagues who were certain he could unite the GOP. He hated Trump back then. You could just tell.
And now, just this week: The New York Post’s Page Six was reporting that cooking celebrity Sandra Lee would not appear on a “Fox & Friends” segment with him because he literally made her feel nauseated. “What occurred to me is that we are both from Wisconsin,” she told the column. “And I realized he is the one thing from Wisconsin that I cannot tolerate or stomach.”
A newspaper from his home state published an editorial, “House Speaker Paul Ryan needs to be replaced with an adult.”
The congressman from the next district over remarked that Ryan “seems to roll over and want his belly rubbed by the president.”
“Saturday Night Live” had a go: Ryan was portrayed this week as a bootlicking soda jerk who exists only to bring Trump his nightly two scoops of ice cream. “He feeds me dog food,” the character remarked cheerfully.
Ryan had fallen into a pit of Trump-by-association, a pit that ever widens, a pit that defines our times.
“One more question,” one of his staff members warned reporters at Thursday’s news conference. Ryan called on a reporter from PBS. She asked a policy question, about health care: assuming it passed, would changes take effect next year, or in 2018?
Ryan appeared in his element. He told her the Department of Health and Human Services would be the best place to answer her question, and went out into the rest of his crappy day.