From the title of the speech — “Failures of Liberal Progressivism” — right down to the rhetoric Ryan used throughout, this speech was quite clearly an attempt to press the “reset” button on the current political dialogue in the country. Ignore Trump, Ryan was saying. Here's what I — and real conservatives — believe. And here's what liberals believe. That's what we need to focus on once the Trump train runs out of steam on Nov. 8.
“I know this election has taken some dark — sometimes very dark — turns,” Ryan said at one point. “Which is exactly why I think it is so important that we take a step back and reflect on what this election is ultimately about.”
At another moment, he offered this assessment: “Beneath all the ugliness lies a long-running debate between two governing philosophies: One that is in keeping with our nation’s founding principles — like freedom and equality — and another that seeks to replace them.”
Throughout the address, Ryan made the case that Clinton's version of liberalism has failed the country before and will fail it again, largely because it assumes the ideal condition is a nanny government that is always trusted to know better and solve all problems. “In the America they want, the driving force is the state,” said Ryan. “It is a place where government is taken away from the people, and we are ruled by our betters … by a cold and unfeeling bureaucracy that replaces original thinking.”
This speech functions as both the logical extension of the parallel political campaign Ryan has been running since it became clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee and a ramping-up of his efforts to regain control of the party in advance of what increasingly looks like a big-league loss by Trump.
Ryan isn't running for president — yet. What he is doing is trying to ensure that there is a party left to seek the nomination from if and when he does decide to run for president in 2020. To do so, Ryan believes he has to get the GOP out from under the damage being done to the brand by Trump and r-focus people's attention not only on his vision of conservatism but also on the liberal one being offered by Clinton.
“There is far more at stake here than we realize,” Ryan said near the end of his speech, a line that could apply not only to the idea of giving over power in Washington to Clinton but also to allowing Trump to continue to run wild in the GOP.
The stakes are indeed high — both for Ryan's future political prospects and the fate of the GOP in Washington and nationally. Ryan knows that he has to grab the wheel from Trump or watch as the party he wants to lead gets stuck in a ditch from which he won't be able to extricate it. This speech is a lunge for that wheel.