House Speaker Paul Ryan has spent the better part of a year playing the part of the honorable statesman, the Republican who supposedly conducts himself with grace and dignity despite the fact that his party is swiftly being taken over by a pack of rabid hyenas.
This pose landed Ryan the position of Speaker of the House in October when John Boehner was pushed out, albeit quite willingly, by the yipping animals who took offense at Boehner's unwillingness to do stupid stuff to appease the base, like shut down the government for funsies. And it's been serving Ryan well now that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and the press looks, with longing eyes, to Ryan to be the lodestar of seriousness in politics. Nothing wipes out the memory of those goofy workout photos quite so much as having to look at the orange man in the weird toupee pursing his lips at the camera all the time.
But this week should be a stern reminder that Ryan is not the sober-minded legislator he likes to play on TV, but just another bad faith operator who is more interested in pandering to a right-wing base than he is in running an effective government.
Exhibit #1: Pretending that there's some real scandal to be eked out of this Hillary Clinton email story.
For all the hand-wringing and hollering that's going on, it's increasingly clear that Clinton's error in using private email to discuss classified matters while secretary of state is not really a very big or interesting story.
As journalist and security expert Fred Kaplan explained at Slate, the eight out of 30,000 email chains the FBI found that contained "top secret" information did not actually contain information that imperiled national security. Seven were about drone strikes that are classified as "covert mainly to provide cover for the Pakistani and Yemeni governments", but are not actually secret; while Clinton was emailing about them, newspapers and NGOs were busy reporting on the facts of them.
The other was an unimportant piece describing a conversation with the president of Malawi, classified only because all conversations with "foreign leaders are inherently classified".
Ryan is presumably not a stupid man, so he knows full well that this is a nothingburger of a scandal and that the evidence suggests that Clinton did not actually dump important national secrets onto private email servers.
But, as a member of the Clown Car party, he's still putting on his bright red nose and his rainbow-colored wig, and running around play-acting like there's some real scandal here. He's demanding that Clinton be denied security briefings during her campaign because she's supposedly so untrustworthy.
"The DNI Clapper should deny Hillary Clinton access to classified information during this campaign given how she so recklessly handled classified information," Ryan said during a press conference.
Now for the punchline: Ryan, while believing that Clinton should be denied briefings, says he's just fine with letting Trump have access to classified information. He didn't punctuate this statement by honking his nose while running around in his floppy shoes, but then again, he didn't have to.
Of course, all this is being topped off with the House staging one of the many kangaroo court phony "hearings" that they've been conducting under Ryan's leadership, which exist not to find information so much as to use taxpayer money to float false allegations against political opponents.
Exhibit #2: Paul Ryan flirts with punishing House Democrats that staged a sit-in demanding votes on gun control.
Last month, House Democrats staged a sit-in demanding votes for two gun control bills. It made for a compelling news story in part because their demand was so reasonable. All they wanted was a vote. There was no attempt to bully or pressure Republicans into voting for these bills.
Despite this, House Republican leadership is toying with the idea of censuring the Democrats for these actions. Ryan told reporters that "all options are on the table" for dealing with Democrats on this issue.
It's important to take a step back and really take in what Ryan is doing here: He is drawing out a politically embarrassing story that would, if he just ignored it, probably die out on its own. He's doing so to get revenge on people for highlighting that Republicans are too cowardly to go on the record with votes on even minor gun control measures. This pursuit of petty revenge is so important that Ryan is willing to keep this Republican cowardice in the headlines rather than give up swiping at Democrats for this stunt.
The only real reason to persist in fighting over this is because it pleases a bunch of right wing nuts to think about punishing Rep. John Lewis and his colleagues. As when it came to dealing with Clinton, it's clear that, given a choice between being a rational statesman or playing to the Rush Limbaugh-loving fringe, Ryan will choose the latter most of the time.