Paul Ryan lost his way before finding the exit

SAN DIEGO — Paul Ryan has got to be looking forward to spending more time with his children, and less time defending a president who can’t stop acting like an adolescent.

For the speaker of the House — who says he will leave Congress after this term and not run for office again — making lunches and driving carpool is a step up from having to comment daily on Twitter tantrums or the credibility of porn stars.

As for Ryan’s credibility, it has seen better days. The Wisconsin Republican was so eager to remain relevant in his party during the Trump Era that he made a deal with the Devil. And, as usual, the Devil got the better end of the bargain.

With the GOP facing the prospect of big losses in November, media commentators wasted no time in accusing Ryan of deserting a sinking ship. There is no doubt that his departure makes for bad optics, and that he did his party no favor by announcing his plans seven months before the election.

But, in Ryan’s defense, what has the Republican Party done for him? Not much, other than electing Trump and inflicting him on the GOP establishment in Washington. Thanks for nothing, folks. Ryan doesn’t owe his fellow Republicans a thing.

The real letdown was suffered by political moderates who thought Ryan was a new and improved, kinder and gentler Republican 2.0. They should have known better. If you put your faith in politicians, you had better get comfortable with being misled, betrayed, conned and disappointed.

And for Latinos who bristle at racism, and who search for moderate Republicans they can support because Democrats have failed them, the disappointment du jour is Ryan. The speaker started out as one of the good ones. He was a Republican with a heart and a brain, when many in the GOP are missing one or the other — and sometimes both. And his compassion and reasonableness led you to give a hearing to his center-right policies on trade, taxes and smaller government.

As a protege of Jack Kemp, Ryan learned from the best. The late Republican congressman and U.S. Housing Secretary was loved and respected by Latinos and African-Americans because he didn’t treat them like villains or victims but as fellow citizens.

One lesson from the School of Kemp was to always give people respect and approach them as equals. Another was that the GOP could use its love of freedom and opportunity to lure voters of all colors and backgrounds into “a big tent” if it didn’t turn them off with exclusionary racial rhetoric that sounded like “us vs. them.” And on immigration, that it was fine to oppose illegal entry but that it was also a good idea to acknowledge the economic, cultural and societal benefits of legal immigration — and resist destructive efforts to cut it.

In speeches and online campaign material, Ryan would insist that he was against “amnesty.” Then he would go on to embrace it by saying that he favored “legalizing” the undocumented and wanted to “give people a chance to get right with the law.”

In January 2017, during a CNN town hall, Ryan was confronted by a woman whose parents brought her to the United States without papers at age 11, and who had been in the country for 21 years since then and now had a daughter of her own. The woman asked him: “Do you think that I should be deported?”

To which Ryan responded: “I can see that you love your daughter and you’re a nice person who has a great future ahead of you, and I hope your future’s here.” He went on to call for “a humane solution to this very legitimate, sincere problem.” And when asked about Trump’s promise to create a “deportation force,” the speaker said that sort of thing is “not happening.”

In June 2016, Ryan told reporters that Trump’s claim that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel could not be objective in deciding a case involving Trump University because the U.S.-born jurist is “Mexican” fit “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Yet, once Trump was elected, Ryan fell in line behind Trump in order to push a GOP agenda that included $1.4 trillion in tax cuts.

Such a tragic final act for one of the few Republicans left who believed in a big tent. Now all we’re left with are those who feel more comfortable in a circus tent.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group