MILWAUKEE — President Donald Trump laid into former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan as a “baby” and a “terrible speaker” on Friday hours before visiting Ryan’s home state to talk trade and raise money for his 2020 re-election campaign.
Trump unleashed his criticism after the former congressman from Janesville was quoted in a new book as saying the president didn’t know anything about governing and that he retired to get away from him.
“Paul Ryan let us down. Paul Ryan was a terrible speaker,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn. “Frankly, he was a baby. He didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
Ryan condemns Trump in “American Carnage” by Tim Alberta of Politico. Alberta wrote that the former speaker, who retired from Congress in 2018, could not stand the idea of another two years with the Republican president and saw retirement as the “escape hatch.” Ryan is quoted saying: “I’m telling you, he didn’t know anything about government. I wanted to scold him all the time.”
On Thursday evening, Trump unleashed tweets labeling Ryan as a “lame duck failure.”
“He had the Majority & blew it away with his poor leadership and bad timing,” Trump tweeted. “Never knew how to go after the Dems like they go after us. Couldn’t get him out of Congress fast enough!”
Ryan had no comment Friday on the president’s tweets about him, his spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Trump may have been angered by various revelations in the book, including accounts recalling widespread negative GOP reactions to his off-color videotaped comments in the “Access Hollywood” scandal in the closing weeks of the 2016 election campaign. The day after the video surfaced, Ryan revoked Trump’s invitation to a GOP unity event in Elkhorn.
The book recounted Ryan, who served in Congress for 20 years, saying Trump’s presidency was slipping as he was less willing to accept advice from Republicans to moderate his approach.
“Those of us around him really helped to stop him from making bad decisions. All the time,” Ryan said. “We helped him make much better decisions, which were contrary to kind of what his knee-jerk reaction was. Now I think he’s making some of these knee-jerk reactions.”
Trump talks trade
Trump barnstormed for his new trade deal with Mexico and Canada during a visit to Milwaukee on Friday, hoping that its economic impact will help him to retain a battleground state vital to his re-election effort. It was Trump’s sixth visit to the state during his presidency.
Trump told workers at Derco Aerospace the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which has yet to pass Congress, would be “vital to the future” of the nation’s manufacturing economy and would provide “the strongest protections yet for American workers.”
“I want you to have a level playing field because when you have a level playing field, nobody can beat you,” he said.
Trump in 2016 became the first Republican to win Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton by just 22,748 votes. Along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt state was meant to be part of the Democrats’ safety net against Trump, but Clinton failed to visit the state even once during the general election campaign — a fact the president mentions frequently.
Trump opened his Milwaukee speech by reminiscing about his Wisconsin victory on Election Day, then did a quick segue to promoting the trade pact.
“The deal will have a tremendous impact on your state,” said Trump. “After years of rebuilding foreign nations, we are finally rebuilding our nation. It’s as simple as that.”
Wisconsin was one of two Midwest stops Friday designed to warm up Trump’s 2020 campaign engine with fundraisers expected to bring in a combined $7 million, according to the Republican National Committee.
Canada and Mexico
But his public focus was the USMCA, whose fate is uncertain in Congress, and of particular interest in Wisconsin.
Canada and Mexico are Wisconsin’s top two foreign export markets. Last year, the state exported $31 million worth of products to Canada and $15.2 million worth of products to Mexico, according to census data.
Wisconsin imported $15.5 million worth of goods from Canada in 2018, behind only China. The state imported $9.3 million worth of goods from Mexico last year, the fourth highest amount of imports among the state’s foreign trade partners.
Proponents of the deal believe it could also help the state’s dairy farmers and Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector, which contribute nearly 20% of the state’s gross domestic product.
“In Wisconsin, we have a trade surplus with Mexico and Canada,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who traveled Friday on Air Force One with the president. “I am happy to have NAFTA updates, but we need to get it ratified. This is important for Wisconsin.”
Johnson was referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the new trade deal is meant to replace.
Still a battleground
While Trump took credit for the state’s economic gains, Wisconsin remains starkly divided over the president and appears a toss-up again in 2020.
The latest Marquette University Law School poll in April found 52% of respondents disapproved of how Trump is handling his job, while 46% approved. The poll also found that 54% of respondents said they would definitely or probably vote for someone else in 2020, while 42% said they would definitely or probably vote to re-elect him.
The Trump campaign plans an all-out blitz again in the state, one of a handful most analysts believe will determine the White House next year. Democrats also aren’t ignoring the state this time: a half-dozen campaigned in Wisconsin this week and the party scheduled its nominating convention for Milwaukee next year.
Republicans have been seeking a vote on USMCA before the August recess to get in front of the presidential campaign season, but it’s looking more likely that any vote, if one occurs at all, will have to wait at least until September. House Democrats want to strengthen enforcement of the agreement’s labor and environmental obligations.
Trump urged Democrats to view the USMCA “as a bipartisan bill” and to abandon their investigations into his administration in favor of sending the trade bill to “my desk today.”
After Air Force One touched down in Wisconsin on Friday, Trump was greeted by cheering onlookers, including a woman who asked him to sign her Christian Louboutin heel. The president obliged.
“After years of rebuilding foreign nations, we are finally rebuilding our nation. It’s as simple as that.” President Donald Trump