Earlier this month, the New York state assembly speaker, Carl Heastie, stood in Times Square and declared the saving of the Dreamers was his “number one priority”. It was only a slight rhetorical embellishment on his public pronouncements. For the very first time, Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, had to wait for the speaker of the New York state assembly to take the lead in discussions about undocumented immigrants. Such arrangements are rare. But on Thursday, voters in 11 districts cast ballots for Paul Ryan.
According to recent polls, Washington state is the state where Donald Trump is in his weakest political position: just 36% of state residents approve of his performance, and 57% of them want him to resign. But, evidently, the same question is not asked in Washington. In 2018, Paul Ryan has an approval rating of 75%. Are Republicans more willing to fire a congressional speaker who might lose his seat than they are in New York?
It is hard to say, but we do know that Republicans are not happy with Paul Ryan for a number of reasons. First, many are disappointed by how slow they’ve been in confirming Trump’s nominees. Second, Ryan has drifted from the political centre; to a large part, this is because he is frustrated by the conservative wing of his own party, which has, since the 2016 election, tried to block nearly every measure that pleases him. Third, they are unhappy that he cuts taxes.
Some conservatives refer to this as “the Ryan Republican agenda”, but others see it as evidence of “liberal wish-fulfilment”. They see Ryan as siding with “movement conservatism” over long-established Republican orthodoxy. The anger among them is understandable: Ryan is trying to liberalise, slowly, the Republican party’s party discipline.
A new census might show that some of these same people are attracting to the Democratic party. Long-run demographic trends suggest that Republicans will suffer a decline in voter support. As a result, it is not surprising that Ryan might leave his post sooner than he’d prefer. And he ought to leave sooner. A president whom he helped put in office is, for all intents and purposes, destroying the Republicans’ two-party advantage. This is a bad problem to have, though. Under Trump, Democrats may become even stronger, and so will Republicans.
The lesson for Republicans from Paul Ryan is not to be angry at him. He’s tried. He hasn’t been able to unify the party, but the organisation can still unite against Trump. Republicans should rally around him and stop trying to act like bickering adolescent boys.
The problem for the Republican party in the 2018 elections is that people are not enthusiastic about their ideas. The polling for the 2018 midterms in the US, even if they are badly modeled, suggests that turnout is low. The GOP needs to solve this problem by better mobilising its base. That requires more details, especially on taxes.
But the absence of detail in Republicans’ tax plans is not the only issue of concern. Paul Ryan is defending his tax proposals from accusations that they will turn the US into a nation of welfare cheats. This is an unfair accusation. We are not doomed to a welfare crisis, and it is no accident that low-income Americans do worse than their wealthy counterparts – even in good times. And, as the president’s various tax deals make clear, Republican tax plans do not do much to help the poor. Their tax code may give the wealthy a break, but it raises taxes on most other Americans.
What’s required, then, is a deeper change in the US tax code. It’s time for Republicans to raise taxes.
• David Frum is a columnist for the Atlantic