Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) lukewarm embrace ended months of speculation about the tenuous relationship between the Republican Party’s most prominent elected official and its standard bearer. We all knew Speaker Ryan would get to this point. It seems fitting that his explanation for supporting Donald Trump was as disingenuous as it was tepid.
Paul Ryan’s column in the Janesville Gazette seemed to imply that he and Donald Trump had a shared agenda for our country. Let’s examine that statement. Donald Trump has a tax plan that the non-partisan Tax Foundation has suggested will add $10 trillion dollars to our federal debt over the next 10 years (after shoring up the nomination, Trump has hinted at changes that could reduce that number to $4 trillion). He has vowed that there will be no changes to Social Security or Medicare. In his words, he “won’t touch them”. He’s also going to add billions dollars to our defense budget. In fact, the only program Trump has advocated cutting is the “Department of Environmental”, a non-existent federal agency. As the former budget committee chairman, Ryan has to view these principle tenets of Trump’s fiscal policy as mathematically challenged at best.
Trump has further called for a deportation force, a total ban on Muslims coming into the United States, abrogating our trade agreements, and killing the families of foreign terrorists. Not only are these values not shared by Speaker Ryan, but he has actively spoken out against those dubious policy pronouncements.
So what did Speaker Ryan mean when he pointed to the common ground that he and Trump share? Sadly, I think what he meant is that despite huge differences in policy, temperament, and governing philosophies, both he and Trump are Republicans.
This actually isn’t a surprising revelation. Politics has become a team sport and partisanship is now the new prejudice in America. Fully one-third of Democrats and almost half of all Republicans would be “displeased” if their child married someone from the opposite political party – up almost ten-fold from 1960.
Even in Speaker Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, where the Badger state temporarily halted Trump’s march to the nomination, Republican primary voters were a study in contradictions. Fully 58% of Republican primary voters said they would be “Scared” or “Concerned” by a Trump presidency. Yet, in a hypothetical match-up between Trump and Clinton only 10% of those same voters would vote for Clinton. That speaks volumes about the state of partisanship in our country.
Republican voters in Wisconsin seemed to be pondering a dilemma. “Do I vote for someone that I think might be a threat to the world’s security or do I vote for a Democrat?”
It’s apparently a head scratcher. This shouldn’t be viewed in any way as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. I believe that the virus of partisanship is so strong, that regardless of who is elected president, our country will still be paralyzed by gridlock. The Republican’s primary legislative agenda if Clinton is elected will be the same as it was when Obama was elected – to make her a one term president. If Trump is elected president, the Democrats in Congress will respond in kind.
What we won’t see is any meaningful progress on the issues that face everyday Americans. With so many serious problems – income inequality, stagnate wages, runaway entitlement programs, corruption, corporate welfare, immigration reform – and a system that requires cooperation to get anything done, we won’t be able to meet any of our country’s challenges in this environment of hyper-partisanship.
In study after study, it’s been proven that the spirit of partisanship is so strong, particularly in partisans who are politically active, that the mere mention of the other party is enough to turn someone against a policy or a candidate.
“Politics is the art of the possible,” 19th century German statesman Otto Von Bismarck famously observed. The Mellman-Ayres poll suggests that 21st century politics in the United States has deliberately been made the art of the impossible.
The plurality of Americans who are truly independent need to work to break the partisan stranglehold on our politics. We need to appeal to likeminded Americans in both parties, who are holding on to the memory of a party that has long since left them, to join with us in reforming our politics.
Together we represent a silent, but strong majority in America. We need to collectively reject the labels and the false choices and the bitterly negative politics of division that defines good versus evil based solely on a partisan imprint. We need to implore our fellow citizens to think for themselves and recognize that we will never meet our potential as a country if our mode of conveyance is a Republican elephant or a Democratic donkey. We need the Independent’s life raft.
Paul Ryan’s vision of turning his “[House Republican] agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives” is nothing more than election year fodder that will never come to pass unless Americans collectively declare their independence. Doing so would send a powerful message to the partisans in Washington that they can no longer take our votes for granted, they actually have to earn them by getting something done for the American people.
Editor's note: This article originally published in The Hill on July 1, 2016.