Paul Ryan got high marks from commentators for calling out the House and Senate Republicans who announced they would challenge the Electoral College results that establish Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.
But we’re not prepared to celebrate the former Republican speaker of the U.S. House just yet.
What Ryan said about the move by his former colleagues to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters — including 2.3 million Wisconsinites — was good. But not good enough.
On the basic issue of the challenge to the election results, Ryan got it right: “Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden's victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it not do significant damage to American democracy.”
Ryan relied on facts to make the case that his fellow Republicans were engaged in a fool’s mission: “The Trump campaign had ample opportunity to challenge election results, and those efforts failed from lack of evidence. The legal process was exhausted, and the results were decisively confirmed. The Department of Justice, too, found no basis for overturning the result. If states wish to reform their processes for future elections, that is their prerogative. But Joe Biden’s victory is entirely legitimate.”
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan reminded his ideological allies that there is nothing conservative about disrupting the peaceful transition of power in order to satisfy the whims of an election loser, Donald Trump, and his delusional supporters.
“All our basic rights and freedoms flow from a fidelity to the Constitution and rule of law. This principle is not only fundamentally American but a central tenet on conservatism,” the Janesville Republican explained. “Under our system, voters determine the president, and this self-governance cannot sustain itself if the whims of Congress replace the will of the people. I urge members to consider the precedent that it would set.”
Good. All good.
But here’s the problem with Ryan’s statement — and with his whole approach to Trump and Trumpism, during the period when he served as speaker and, now, as he tries on the cloak of Republican elder statesman. He doesn’t name names.
Ryan references the Trump campaign, but fails to call out Trump for stirring up not just the challenge but the threat of street violence with his calls on supporters to occupy Washington on Jan. 6.
Worse yet, Ryan fails to call out the Republicans — especially Wisconsin Republicans — who have enabled Trump. The congressional challenge will not be made by Trump, himself, but by Republicans who have chosen their loyalty to Trump over their duty to honor the Constitution, respect the will of the people and defend the results from the state they are supposed to represent.
At the top of that list is U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the Oshkosh Republican who has taken the lead in amplifying the toxic stew of lies and conspiracy theories that form the basis for Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of an election he lost by a more than 7 million votes nationwide and by a 306-232 landslide in the Electoral College.
Johnson has embarrassed himself so thoroughly that, during a Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he was excoriated by host Chuck Todd for spewing divisive nonsense.
“You made an allegation that there was widespread fraud. You have failed to offer specific evidence of that widespread fraud. But you're demanding an investigation on the grounds that there are allegations of widespread fraud. So essentially, you're the arsonist here,” Todd said. “You've started this fire. And now you're saying, ‘Whoa, look at this. Oh my God. All these people believe what we told them,’ because you didn't have the guts to tell the truth that this election was fair.”
Todd was not being unfair to Johnson. He was getting to the heart of the matter.
Ryan needs to do the same.
Ryan, who helped to make Ron Johnson a senator, has a duty to now recognize that that Johnson has become a destructive force — damaging the political discourse not just in the Senate but here at home in Wisconsin.
Paul Ryan should call on Ron Johnson to stop peddling conspiracy theories and lies. If Johnson fails to do so, Ryan should make it clear that we will not support the senator for a new term in 2022.
Anything short of a complete rejection of Johnson’s delusional politics is a sham. If Paul Ryan fails to tell Ron Johnson off, then Ryan is no better than the onlooker who grumbles about the fire but says nothing about the arsonist who started it.
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