Paul Ryan began by thanking the audience for “indulging” him, but he didn’t say in what.
That would become clear soon enough.
Ostensibly, the Speaker of the House’s talk at Georgetown University on Wednesday afternoon was about about the issues facing the 700 millennial voters seated within the mahogany and stained glass confines of Gaston Hall. But to listen closely was to hear a man fully in denial.
The grim reality of the Republican Party in 2016 seems just too much for Paul Ryan to bear.
And so he isn’t bearing it.
Things are, to hear Ryan tell it, peachy.
“I’ve been very dismayed by this year’s election thus far,” a junior government major rose from his chair to tell Ryan, who responded by joking, “Why is that?”
The student asked for advice and reasons for optimism for young conservatives like himself, who will never support Donald Trump but who don’t like Ted Cruz, either.
“Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve had this question,” Ryan said, laughing.
Then he explained that, actually, everything is fine if you ignore the bad stuff entirely.
“I would look at the ideas,” Ryan said, “look at the platform that is being advanced.”
Ryan pointed to his five-point legislative agenda—broadly: national security, the economy, health care, poverty, and the Constitution—the specifics of which he’s promised will be worked out “by the time that we have a nominee.”
The agenda is supposed to guide whomever wins the nomination as well as Republican congressional candidates around the country.
“In front of you is not just a vote for a person, a political personality,” Ryan said. “In front of you, if we do our jobs the right way, will be a choice of two paths that you will have to take: Do you want to stay in the status quo, do you want to stay on the path we’re on, or do you want to go in this different direction?”
“That’s the choice you’ll have,” Ryan said, “far more than a personality.”
Even Karl Rove understands that the Republican brand has been sullied by the rise of Donald Trump.
Having led the polls and won the majority of primaries and caucuses since the race formally began, Trump is now a few hundred delegates away from mathematically qualifying for the nomination. And it’s Trump, a populist neo-fascist who is running under and all over the GOP banner despite having donated to Democrats. Trump partied at his third wedding with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and, who misunderstood just about every aspect of conservatism, is the de-facto leader of the Republican Party, not Paul Ryan or any of his establishment cohorts with their big brains and bullet points.
And the alternative to Trump, Ted Cruz, is not much better for the GOP’s reputation, a hardass evangelical Christian who would sooner put cement in his shoes and swim in the Potomac than move an inch to get something done in Washington.
Earlier Wednesday, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Ryan dismissed the idea that there is any conflict between him and the Republican candidates. “We have lots of different views,” he said, “but come from the same principles.”
Ryan is now the real-life version of the meme of the dog saying “This is fine” and having a cup of coffee while his kitchen is engulfed in flames.
In fairness, he’s trying to sell these kids a broken product. The GOP at this point is a like a Shamwow that covers your car in black paint instead of soap—making the mess 10 times dirtier than it was when you started.
Pitching love and happiness could work if your standard bearer wasn’t a fearmonger.
But Trump is—so it’s unclear what Ryan’s endgame is here and why the hell he’s spending his afternoon talking to college kids about Uber and Snapchat (he said the world needs them to produce more apps like that) instead of, I don’t know, governing.
The budget deadline passed weeks ago because Ryan’s House can’t agree on what color the sky is on a clear day.
Still, Ryan’s excuse for not getting into the presidential race, after establishment forces begged him to run, was that he was too busy with his job as Speaker.
But it would seem as though he’s conflicted, and it would also seem as though he’s definitely not busy.
He uploads gauzy YouTube videos that could, with a little tweaking, become campaign ads. (By the way, he’s definitely not running for president, so stop asking.)
In March, he made a video called “Bracketology” about his March Madness strategy.
This month, he released a clip called, “Politics These Days,” about how he wants to bring people together rather than divide them.
After the event, a tiny cavalry of black SUVs pulled out of the driveway, onto 37th Street—the unsatisfying Paul Ryan motorcade his non-campaign about nothing deserves.