Dent is a Pennsylvania moderate in a district Trump won by 7.6 points — not a comfortable margin considering Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory last month in a Pennsylvania district Trump won by nearly 20 points. Much the same could be said of New Jersey’s Rodney Frelinghuysen (Trump by 0.9 percent), Washington’s Dave Reichert (Clinton by 3), or Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Clinton by 19.6). The last time Republicans had anywhere near this number of House retirements, 27 in 2008, Democrats picked up 21 seats.
Live by Trump; die by him. Liberals may despise Ryan for the tax bill or other policies they oppose on ideological grounds. But from a conservative point of view, that was not a failure. Instead, it was the Faustian bargain he struck with the president, normalizing the abnormal and forgiving the unforgivable for the sake of a single mediocre policy win.
The world will little note nor long remember that in 2017 Republicans cut the top marginal rate to 37 percent from 39.6 percent and otherwise tried but failed to kill Obamacare. It will remember the alacrity and ease with which the supposedly likable face of pro-growth, family-friendly conservatism opportunistically played the sycophant to the congenitally mendacious and previously priapic nativist bigot who, through a bad fluke, captured the White House.
A conservative rejoinder to this critique is that the speaker had no choice; that Trump was the lemon with which he had to make lemonade. Nonsense. Congress and the White House are coequals, and Ryan and other Republicans who saw Trump for what he is never owed him obeisance. They owed the country an alternative political vision, untainted by Trumpism, which could emerge from the debacle of this presidency with clean hands. Ryan’s failure to deliver one will be remembered as the central fact of his once-bright career.
Is there an alternative?
Among Republicans, Ohio’s John Kasich, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain have sought in different ways to offer one, without immediate success but with integrity, honor and a sense of the long view. In a party of Pétains they are the conservative de Gaulles.