Opinion writer

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered remarks at the Ronald Reagan Institute on Thursday afternoon praising U.S. leadership in the world. How he — one of President Trump’s most loyal apologists — keeps a straight face while extolling U.S. values and alliances, which Trump routinely trashes, remains a source of wonder.

“We have to be ambassadors for what we believe, wherever we are, without equivocation,” said the man who tolerates a president who praises Vladimir Putin and tells us the North Korean people love Kim Jong Un, their jailer. “A set of policies is not what convinces people to side with us—it is the idea of America that draws them to us,” he proclaims. “It is the idea of a country where the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. That is where our true power lies.” Except “the condition of your birth” does matter to Trump and to the GOP’s rabid base. They want people from Norway not “shithole countries.” Meanwhile, the Dreamers remain without a solution to their plight because Ryan won’t put a bill that could actually pass on the House floor.

The speaker continued:

I believe our friends want to side with us in a free-market, liberalized system. They just need to know that the U.S. will be there for the long haul. We must understand: The rules of the road for the 21st century economy are being written right now. Privacy, intellectual property, the way capital moves across borders today–these are all critical issues for the coming decades.

So the question is: Will we set the tone or will it be others who don’t share our values or ideals? Strong trade agreements and economic partnerships set a high standard and bring our allies into the fold—and they make us more secure. In short, free trade must be always be an active instrument of American leadership.

That’s odd considering Ryan also refused to put measures on the floor to reclaim Congress’s authority over tariffs. “President Reagan charted the right course—it’s peace through strength, pro-growth economy, clear moral leadership. It is not a new or magic formula,” Ryan declared. “What is needed is a new willingness to think big, go bold, and see things through. To show the largeness of spirit that this moment requires.” Or perhaps what is needed is a willingness to put country over party, to root out obscene corruption that would make tin-pot leaders blush, to stand up to a president who employs the Stalinist phrase “enemy of the people,” to refuse to confirm patently unqualified Cabinet officials, to decline to tolerate alt-right cranks in the White House and to censure a president who says there were “fine” people among the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va.

Interestingly, Ryan did not mention Trump’s name once in a speech heralding the legacy of Reagan. Maybe that’s a small sign of regret, a whiff of shame that he did not rebuke a president who stood for everything Reagan did not: protectionism, xenophobia, coddling dictators, ignoring advisers far more knowledgeable than he, shredding alliances. Or maybe he feared the crowd would boo.

Reagan’s legacy in foreign policy is secure and generally judged favorably 30 years after he left office. Ryan’s spinelessness and refusal to challenge a president who undermined American leadership will be remembered as well.