Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) continued his unbroken streak of shameful cowardice regarding Donald Trump's unrepentant praise for the “fine people” who chanted anti-Semitic slogans in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week, as he was confronted over the issue by attendees at a CNN town hall event Monday night.
More than a week after Trump blamed “many sides” for the white supremacist terror in Charlottesville, and almost a week after overtly praising the anti-Semitic and racist demonstrators, Ryan finally got around to writing a Facebook post that still failed to call Trump out for his betrayal. On Monday night, Trump papered over that betrayal in his national address, and minutes later, Ryan was congratulating him for it.
In his first crack at the question, Ryan took a very long walk to say that Trump “messed up” when he praised white supremacists, but that his remarks tonight made it all better:
"First of all, the president and I spoke on Monday morning about the need for moral clarity, about the need at this very difficult time in our country to have a morally clear message, to absolutely and singularly condemn this repulsive bigotry. He agreed with that. And he did that later that day on Monday. And I thought his speech on Monday was pitch perfect.
Then, the next day, I think it was in New York on an infrastructure press conference, in answer to a question, I think he made comments that were much more morally ambiguous, much more confusing. And I do think he could have done better. I think he needed to do better.
I actually think what he did two days ago in commending the peaceful protests against the hate in Boston was a good start. And I think just what I heard, I don't know, 25 minutes ago, was exactly what a president needs to say and what we needed to hear. So I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it — it — it sounded like a moral equivocation, or at the very least moral ambiguity, when we need extreme moral clarity."
No, it didn't “sound like” equivocation, it was actual praise, and no, “all of us” don't have to do more, we've all been very clear that praising Nazis is scummy and evil. Paul Ryan is the one who didn't do that, and still can't do it.
Ryan seemed to sense the pasting he was about to get, so he then began to ramble on about how the real danger is that we, the nation that spent a week calling Trump out over this when Ryan wouldn't, might become “numb” to white supremacists. Jake Tapper's exasperated sigh says it all:
RYAN: What I worry about in this situation is that we get numbed to this, that we sort of start to lose our sense of outrage against these white supremacists and these neo- Nazis, that we see it over and over on TV and we think, oh, yeah, just that again. No, no, no.
TAPPER: We ...
RYAN: But my point is, we've got to keep our moral outrage, and we all have to stand up and speak out against this kind of bigotry so that it is never normalized, so that we don't give these people oxygen that they're looking for.
Unfortunately for Ryan, there's no “eject” button for Jake Tapper, and so it was that Tapper helpfully reminded Ryan that Trump's remarks weren't some “ambiguous” mess-up, they were morally repugnant. After yet another minute or so of word salad, Ryan finally got around to agreeing that Trump was “wrong,” but also that Trump “cleared that up”:
TAPPER: I think the issue that Eric was expressing is the reluctance to criticize President Trump for specifically saying things like very fine people were marching in that rally that had swastikas and anti- Semitic signs and ... There were not any very fine people in that rally.
RYAN: That's right. That's right. That's right.
TAPPER: And it wasn't morally ambiguous. It was morally wrong ...
RYAN: Yeah. Yeah, so ...
TAPPER: ... what the president said.
RYAN: Let me just add to what you just said. I have a hard time believing, if you're standing in a crowd to protest something and you see, you know, all these anti-Semitic slogans, and the “Heil Hitlers” and swastikas, that you're good with that and you're a good person.
RYAN: You're not a good person if you're there. That's just so very clear. So I totally agree with that. And that's why I think, yeah, it's — it was — it was not only morally ambiguous, it was — it was equivocating. And that was wrong. That's why I think it was very, very important that he — that he — he has since then cleared that up. And I think it was important that he did that tonight.
TAPPER: You think he's done enough?
RYAN: I think we — I don't think any of us have done enough. I think we all have a lot more to do. I think we all got a lot more to do in this area, and I think we have a lot more to do to make sure that these guys don't get normalized.
Well, none of us praised Nazis or sat quietly while Trump did it, but if Paul Ryan is really concerned with “these guys” getting normalized, I have a great suggestion for what he can do next.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.