More important, Ryan still operates in the fantasyland that his GOP agenda remains vibrant. On a day he struggled to talk about tax reform, he insisted, at a news conference: "The point I want to make here is, you've heard me say this before, we're going to walk and chew gum at the same time. We're going to keep doing our jobs, we're going to keep passing our bills, we're going to keep advancing our reforms that we're elected to advance while we do the other things that are within our responsibility." He persisted with the argument that Republicans will be judged on what they accomplished when they face the voters in 2018. "Did we make people's lives better? Did we solve problems? Did we fix the problems that people are confronting in their daily lives? That to me is what matters most, and that's how we'll be judged."
Ryan's self-delusion persists in multiple ways.
First, he seems not to comprehend that his members will be judged on whether they stood up to an unfit president or instead played party politics. Ryan seems to ignore the possibility that voters will decide Congress cannot do its job — performing oversight and acting as a check on the executive branch — with the GOP in the majority. Continuing to minimize or ignore the inferno at the White House adds to the impression that the GOP is unconcerned or unable to deal with the danger Trump presents.
Second, what agenda? Ryan's health-care bill has been panned by voters and experts alike. It's so bad that Senate Republicans won't touch it. And if by some miracle the bill does come back to the House, how in the world does Ryan expect to pass it? The notion that he has some super-popular agenda ready to sail through, be embraced by voters and be used to reelect members ignores political reality. (Some Congress-watchers say that if Ryan doesn't have a firm plan for tax reform and a way to get it through on reconciliation, it is doomed to fail, just as health-care reform did.)
Third, there is no end to the Trump scandals and screw-ups. One day he is passing secrets to the Russians; the next day we learn he hired as national security adviser Michael Flynn knowing that he was already under investigation. With a president this unfit and incompetent, no agenda is going to make progress. The White House is in a tailspin. The alternative — move Trump aside and get a mild-mannered, unexciting President Pence — seems so obviously attractive that one wonders why Republicans are prolonging their own agony. At this point why not, for example, open an emoluments clause investigation and force Trump to choose between his businesses and the presidency?
House Republicans need some tough love. They look craven and irresponsible. Their agenda is hugely unpopular. They'd do much, much better with a President Mike Pence. Ryan would do well to rethink his approach before he faces the voters in 2018 — and loses his speakership.