Paul Ryan used to be the star of the closest thing the Grand Old Party had to a boy band: the Young Guns.
With fellow congressmen Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, Ryan adopted that moniker back when the “Party of Lincoln” was remaking itself as the “Party of No.” The trio penned a book by that title in 2010. Its subhead heralded the trio as “A New Generation of Conservative Leaders,” while promotional materials announced, “This isn’t your grandfather’s Republican party. These Young Guns of the House GOP—Cantor (the leader), Ryan (the thinker), and McCarthy (the strategist)—are ready to take their belief in the principles that have made America great and translate it into solutions that will make the future even better.”
Cantor and McCarthy did their parts. But Ryan was everyone’s favorite: the heartthrob whose proposals to gut Social Security and Medicare got conservative donors swooning. By 2012, he had hit the big time: joining the Romney-Ryan supergroup that toured as the hottest Republican ticket since McCain-Palin.
Six years later, however, the Young Guns are history, and Ryan is barely charting.
Cantor (the leader) proved to be such a lousy leader that he was defeated by a local college professor in a 2014 primary.
Ryan (the thinker) is still playing. But the big-ticket days are over. He ended up with a speakership that he said he didn’t want. And his ideas have proven to be exceptionally unpopular—not just with the great mass of Americans who rejected him as a vice presidential prospect in 2012 but with the grassroots of his own party.
The former “star” found that out the hard way in 2016.
In an election year when Ryan fans had imagined that the Wisconsinite might take center stage as the Republican nominee for president, Ryan is instead appearing as a sideman in Donald Trump’s shock-rock show. Whatever shred of dignity the congressman might have maintained after his losing bid for the vice presidency (which included a debate pummeling at the hands of Joe Biden) has long since been lost. Ryan’s role in 2016 has been reduced to a recurring nightmare stunt. Whenever Trump strikes a horribly wrong note—as he did Tuesday with sinister speculation about how “Second Amendment people” might respond to the election of Democrat Hillary Clinton as president—Ryan’s job is to announce that, while he objects to the most awful things that Trump says and does, he still supports the Republican nominee.