COLORADO SPRINGS — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) warned Monday that Republicans were engaged in a “fight for the soul of our party” when it comes to championing free-market principles and combating the influence of special interests, heralding his policy agenda as a bulwark against “forms of progressivism” seeping into the GOP.
Speaking before a group of 400 wealthy conservatives participating in one of the Koch network’s twice-a-year seminars, the House speaker did not mention GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump by name. But Ryan touted the importance of free trade, an issue Trump has railed against, and said it was essential that party leaders make a better case for the free market. Trump argues that free trade agreements have hurt American workers, and that better deals are needed.
The GOP is “trying to restore ourselves as protectors of the market, and not of the business, and that is the fight for the soul of our party we are in the middle of having right now,” Ryan said.
The House speaker is clearly a favorite of the Koch donor network, and he was received with a standing ovation and whoops. The audience interrupted him several times with hearty applause.
The Washington Post and other news outlets were invited to cover portions of the Koch seminar, on the condition that they did not name donors in attendance without their permission.
Holding a pamphlet detailing his policy agenda, Ryan noted that the House GOP policy platform was developed before there was a clear White House front-runner. “The goal was to then draft with that nominee and then bring this to the country,” he said. “We have a different kind of nominee now,” he added, sparking laughter in the room.
“It’s just unique,” he added. “But the point is, we’re out there running on this.”
In an understatement, Ryan described the current political climate as “clearly an interesting moment.”
“We see ourselves in the House as sort of the engine room of the ship of the Republican Party,” Ryan said. “We also see ourselves adding a keel and a rudder to the ship, giving it substance and giving it direction, giving it a moral foundation, and giving it a practical application of our principles and showing what an agenda actually looks like so we can win this fight for the soul of our party, and for the country.”
He warned that progressives “have done a good job of getting the moral high ground” when it comes to their approach to economic inequity, even though, Ryan said, they have “a condescending, paternalist philosophy that looks down on people.”
The speaker warned that Republicans were “flirting with various forms of progressivism” and said the GOP has to “thoroughly debunk it, repudiate it with something better.”