This post has been updated.
When lack of support compelled Republicans to cancel Friday's scheduled vote on a health-care policy overhaul, it did not take long for Breitbart News to lay the blame at the feet of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). This was the headline:
Got that, readers? Ryan, not President Trump, owned this bill and therefore owns this failure. Never mind that Trump said, "I don't blame Paul" or that White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier in the day that the president had "left everything on the field" in his own effort to pass the bill. According to Breitbart, this is Ryan's fault.
Breitbart has been laying the foundation of a blame-Ryan campaign for a couple weeks. The Fix's March 14 post about the hard-right website's effort follows:
Breitbart News has published a partial recording of an October conference call on which House Speaker Paul D. Ryan told fellow Republican members of Congress that he was “not going to defend Donald Trump — not now, not in the future.” The tape is not the most interesting part of Breitbart's report, however.
That's partly because Ryan's remarks on the call were widely reported at the time; the recording just makes it possible to hear them. But what really overshadows the tape is the following passage, high in an article by Breitbart Washington editor Matt Boyle. It suggests that Breitbart believes the current version of a Trump-backed health-care overhaul is doomed to fail, and the site is preparing to scapegoat Ryan when it does.
Now, Ryan — still the speaker — has pushed now-President Donald Trump to believe his health-care legislation, the American Health Care Act, would repeal and replace Obamacare, when it does not repeal Obamacare. Ryan has also, according to Trump ally Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), misled President Trump into believing that Ryan's bill can pass Congress. Paul and others believe the bill is dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, since a number of GOP senators have come out against it, and there are serious questions about whether it can pass the House.
This is the first major initiative that Trump has worked on with Ryan — and the fact it is going so poorly calls into question whether Speaker Ryan, the GOP’s failed 2012 vice presidential nominee who barely supported Trump at all in 2016, really understands how Trump won and how to win in general.
Got that, everyone? Poor Trump only backs the Republican health-care plan because that dastardly Ryan has conned him into thinking the bill repeals the Affordable Care Act and can actually get through Congress. Don't blame Trump for supporting the bill; blame Ryan for fooling Trump into supporting the bill. Also, Ryan is a loser.
That's the abridged version of Breitbart's report. In the full-length version, the site presents additional reasons to give Trump a pass and blame others. Boyle wrote that White House press secretary Sean Spicer “is working internally as hard as he can to help Ryan on this front, regardless of the impact on Trump, along with a handful of other White House aides who came from the Republican National Committee and are not Trump loyalists.”
Traitors! All these establishment types are undermining the president, according to Breitbart. When the GOP health-care bill fails, it will be their fault, not Trump's.
It is worth remembering that a February article by Boyle heaped blame on White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the former RNC chair, for mishandling the rollout of Trump's original travel ban. The game plan is pretty simple: When something goes wrong, shield Trump and point the finger at the party establishment.
Business Insider reported last week that White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, Breitbart's former chairman, was outraged by the Priebus story. Bannon, despite his strong opposition to Ryan while at Breitbart, has been trying to work with establishment figures such as the speaker and Priebus since signing on to Trump's campaign last summer. He wants Breitbart to play along, according to Business Insider.
It appears that Breitbart isn't game, however. The site seems to think that the best thing for Trump is to defy Bannon's wishes and take aim at other Republican leaders.
The tape of Ryan's conference call is just the tip of the iceberg. Expect Breitbart to continue working against him.