The media has continued its bizarre insistence that the GOP primary has been settled after the completely expected Donald Trump rout in New York on Tuesday, and are seemingly convinced this non-existent reset had something to do with the Trump makeover that is likewise non-existent. Since his victory speech didn't include any crude epithets or mentions of his manly member, they seemed to be under the impression that he's a restrained and dignified statesman worthy of the presidency. Chris Cilizza at the Washington Post's "The Fix" even said that this transformation should alarm the party establishment because he is now so respectable that any #nevertrump illusions are now up in smoke:
[I]t's clear, at least for now, that Trump is listening to his new political advisers -- chief among them convention manager Paul Manafort and national field director Rick Wiley. Trump's change in tone on Tuesday night was absolutely unmistakeable to anyone who has paid even passing attention to his campaign to date. The man who had built his frontrunning campaign on a willingness to always and without fail take the race to its lowest common denominator -- was suddenly full of respect for the men he beat and full of facts about the state of the race...
Trump has shown -- both on Tuesday night and over the past week or so -- an ability to reign himself in that suggests he understands that this new and improved version of himself is the one that can actually win the Republican presidential nomination. Be scared, anti-Trump forces. Be very scared.
But the big rally in Indiana yesterday showed no changes in Trump's usual meandering lunacy punctuated by cries of "build that wall" and "get 'em out!" He was back to "Lyin' Ted" and "Crooked Hillary" and rambling bizarrely about General Patton getting rid of ISIS in three days. At times he was completely unhinged, going on about how he "loves" waterboarding and wants to kill oil truck drivers in Iraq. Everyone can rest easy.
The only slightly new additions to his standard talking points are a few disjointed local references, which frankly, didn't seem to thrill his Hoosier crowd as much as his calls to make our military stronger, bigger and more powerful than it's ever been before and his promise to build a wall better than the Great Wall of China. In other words, Trump is still Trump.
This desire to turn right wingers into statesmen based upon very little evidence is a common phenomenon among media observers. Perhaps it's because they can't believe the ego-driven ineptitude and/or ideological extremism could possibly be as bad as it seems, so they look for any small sign of competence and run with it in the vain hope that they'll awaken from this nightmare and the Republican Party will be normal again. If so, no Washington figure has benefited from this phenomenon more than House Speaker Paul Ryan.
For years he has been the up and coming "it boy" of the Republican caucus, leader of the young guns, the captain of the "deep bench" of new leadership that was going to lead the Party to the promised land. He'd been on the radar for a while but first burst onto the national scene with a draconian budget proposal that ended up being the template for the disastrous budget battles of the Obama administration's first term. That many of the painful budget cuts he proposed were enacted had little to do with merit and everything to do with the toxic brand of politics the GOP adopted after President Obama was elected. Yet, no amount of Randian dogma or hardcore rightwing ideology could shake the beltway's belief that Ryan was a nice sensible centrist. His reputation among the cognoscenti remained sterling; no one was surprised when Mitt Romney chose him for his running mate. Who else could it have been?
When that endeavor also fell flat, Paul Krugman memorably tried to remind everyone that Ryan had always been less than meets the eye:
The fact is that Ryan is and always was a fraud. His plan never added up; it was never, contrary to what people who should know better asserted, “scored” by the CBO. What he actually offered was a plan to hurt the poor and reward the rich, actually increasing the deficit along the way, plus magic asterisks that supposedly reduced the debt by means unspecified.
His genius, if you can all it that, was in realizing that there was a role — as I said, that of Honest, Serious Conservative — that self-proclaimed centrists desperately wanted to see filled, so that they could demonstrate their bipartisanship by lavishing praise on the holder of that position. So Ryan did his best to impersonate a budget wonk. It wasn’t a very good impersonation — in fact, he’s pretty bad at budget math. But the “centrists” saw what they wanted to see. Ryan can’t be ignored, since his party does retain blocking power, and he chairs an important committee. But if he must be dealt with, it should be with no illusions
The White House certainly no longer had any illusions, but the budget battles continued. And then, once again demonstrating that no amount of failure could tarnish his prestige, the GOP drafted him for House Speaker and the entire Washington establishment fell into an ecstatic fugue state. The innumerate budget wonk and losing VP candidate was now the most powerful Republican in the government. And now they can't stop talking about him as political messiah who will sweep in, win the presidential nomination by acclamation and save the country from all those disreputable people who are currently running.
Stephen Colbert did a perfect impression of the beltway pundits in this interview with Ryan earlier in the week:
They won't take no for an answer.
And yet he continues to fail. As Salon's Gary Legum pointed out yesterday, Ryan's caucus is still in total disarray. He can't get anything passed, much less a budget. Politico has reported that business is at a standstill and there's no sign of its revival this year:
A House bill to address the Puerto Rico crisis is bogged down in committee after some Republicans cried “bailout,” despite Ryan’s insistence the measure is no such thing. The GOP-drafted budget has been stalled for weeks because of objections from conservatives still upset over last year’s spending deal with President Barack Obama and Democrats. That’s led to a delay taking up the dozen annual appropriations bills until mid-May.
[...]Indeed, 2016, which always figured to be light on legislative accomplishments, is proving to be a virtual wasteland on the House side.
Only 40 legislative days remain before the House adjourns for the national conventions, and nothing substantive is expected to happen until a projected lame-duck session in November. House Republicans won’t shut down the government in September, but they’re not going to do much else.
This is not all Ryan's fault. The House GOP is as crazy as ever. Everyone assumes that he's being hamstrung by the Freedom Caucus extremists who are still angry about the omnibus bill passed last fall. It's possible he's just holding his fire until the campaign is over in the hopes that it drains some of the poison out of the party so he can then enact his new phony compassion agenda unobstructed. But his history suggests that he's just winging it as usual. He's never shown that he's particularly adept at either policy or political leadership despite his position as the designated savior of the Republican Party.
But then Ryan doesn't really have to deliver anything, does he? The Republican party doesn't believe in government action and rewards people who get nothing done. And it doesn't matter to the beltway media. In their eyes, he can do no wrong.
Just like Trump, repeatedly failing is the secret to Paul Ryan's success. If it ain't broke why fix it?